India has achieved an unexpected benefit on the energy front during this Covid-19 pandemic phase.

The gap between the share of renewables and coal-fired power in India’s electricity generation sector has narrowed more than ever before.

“The share of renewables increased from 17 per cent just before the pandemic to almost 24 per cent and coal-fired power declined from 76 per cent to 66 per cent,” said energy analysts of International Energy Agency (IEA) in their note on India’s energy sector.

“The shift in power mix reflected the government’s commitment to decarbonise power generation through renewables, notably using its key programmes,” said IEA note.

IEA is of the view that the clean energy transition is good, both for the economy and the environment of India, the world’s third-largest energy consumer. Ensuring that renewable electricity generation remains an integral part of the air pollution reduction strategy will also limit growth in CO2 emissions in the country, it said.

As on June 30, 2020, India’s total installed power capacity was 371,054 MW. The renewable sector’s installed capacity was 87,669 MW (about 24 per cent), while the thermal sector (including coal, lignite and diesel) accounted for 205,914 MW, making 55 per cent of the total capacity, according to official data.

As governments look at restarting economies, job creation remains on top of policymakers’ minds. Implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy measures can lead to immediate job creation and retention, particularly in the labour-intensive buildings sector, which employs 12 per cent of India’s workforce.

Similarly, the clean energy sector holds huge potential for job creation. India’s renewable energy workforce has grown five-fold in the last five years and its clean energy targets of 175 GW equate the employment potential of over 3.3 lakh workers by 2022.

Rooftop solar and decentralised energy technologies are labour-intensive industries and promise much higher job creation potential than utility-scale power plants, said the IEA analysts.

The Covid-19 pandemic should be used as an opportunity to fast-forward India’s sustainable energy goals. These will help India not only in its fight against the pandemic, but also in reviving its economy by creating jobs in clean energy industries. The path that India will take will provide many lessons for countries around the world, the note pointed out.

IEA pointed out that implementation of energy efficiency measures, particularly in the industry, services and buildings sectors, were instrumental in helping India reduce its energy intensity by 27 per cent over the past 10 years.

Over the same period, India’s primary energy demand nearly doubled, driven by strong economic growth averaging 6.8 per cent a year. Improving efficiency not only benefits economic productivity but also reduces emissions. “Efficiency improvements undertaken between 2000 and 2018 helped avoid 14 per cent of CO2 emissions, as well as more than 15 per cent of SO2 and NOX air pollutant emissions,” it said.