Big ambitions demand bigger policy push. Even the best laid plans with best intentions are fraught with challenges.

At COP 26 in Glasgow Prime Minister Narendra Modi spelt out the five-pronged ‘panchamrita’ which specifies, by 2030, getting 500 GW non-fossil fuel based energy capacity; meeting 50 per cent of energy with renewables; reduction of Co2 emissions by one billion tonnes; reducing carbon intensity by less than 45 per cent over 2005 level and to be net-zero emitter by 2070.

It was boldly ambitious in scope and aptly contextual in fight against global climate change. For a nation whose energy economy is coal driven the statement underscores the country’s commitment to reduce carbon intensive approaches.

Every great initiative has two components. What and How. Action and Result. While what is well defined, how is the big question.

India’s commitment to control carbon emissions is important because it is the third highest emitter in the world. But its emissions per person ranks it near the bottom of the world’s emitters and lower still if one considers historical emissions per person. The country’s massive geography and great potential for growth means its energy demand is bound to rise relatively higher than any other country in the coming decades. Which in turn means in future India’s carbon emissions are set to increase.

The two commitments important for India’s green energy pathway are to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 45 per cent by 2030, from 2005 level, and achieve 50 per cent of cumulative electric power installed capacity.

Installed capacity of non-fossil fuels has to be scaled up from nearly 179 GW ending FY23 to 500 GW in the next seven years, a 321-GW jump. Given that the average annual capacity addition has been around 13 GW during the last two years ending FY23, going forward close to 46 GW has to be added every year. This is nearly 3.5 times the average addition of last two years. Yet another daunting task is doubling electricity generation from non-fossil fuels from about 26 per cent ending FY23 to 50 per cent by 2030.

Solar and wind power are the dependable twins of the clean electricity revolution and are the fastest growing alternatives. Solar power, where India is ranked 4th globally, would particularly be the decisive contributor. It is expected that by 2030 installed capacities of solar and wind will be 280 GW and 140 GW respectively. Combined, they account for 84 per cent of the total non-fossil fuel target. But the gap between their current standing and where they need to be in 2030 is disconcerting.

Solar growth

If one looks at solar power growth in India, its capacity installation in real sense started from 2011-12. Earlier, the cumulative installed capacity was only 35.93 MW. In a sharp rise it went up to 896 MW in 2011-12 which since then was on ascending mode. Though some momentum was visible the growth got affected during the Covid year.

Solar’s annual growth rate during the last six years was 33 per cent which if sustained, India can achieve the target. But it requires sizeable growth in real terms. The target of 100 GW by 2022 was widely missed by around 40 GW shortfall but one should bear in mind the two-year Covid slowdown. 100 GW is unlikely to be achieved by 2025 unless there is substantial increase in real numbers.

Till FY23 India had nearly 67 GW installed solar power capacity whereas in the next seven years it has to reach 280 GW, a fourfold upswing.

Target of wind energy installation is even more challenging. With installed capacity of 42.6 GW till FY23, growth in last six years has been less than 5 per cent. Whereas, the required rate is about 20 per cent. This means in the last seven years additional capacity installed was only about 16 GW and the requirement is to install 100 GW in next seven years. Unless a major overhaul in the policy framework is made to promote wind energy, achieving the target appears difficult.

The most important action point to accelerate renewables is to improve supply chain. In the long term, dependency on a single source country for solar cells and modules needs to be reduced. Indigenous production of solar wafers is critical in ensuring the supply chain.

In a leg up for domestic Solar PV module manufacturing capacity the government has initiated a PLI scheme, and under Tranche II 39,600 MW capacity was allocated to 11 companies including Reliance, Indosol, First Solar, ReNew and Tata Power Solar.

Combined with the 8,737 MW capacity under Tranche I, total manufacturing capacity allocated under PLI Scheme stands at 48,337 MW. This is a positive stride in boosting solar capacity installation. Adani Solar said it has produced the first large size monocrystalline silicon ingots in India. It intends to add 2 GW of wafer and ingot capacity by 2023 with plans to scale up to 10 GW by 2025.

Skilling matters

Skilling adequate manpower right from manufacturing ingots to maintaining solar power stations needs closer look. The country has large young population but adequate skill sets have been missing. Land availability is a major pain point. Although many State Governments have identified land, especially Rajasthan, these land parcels may not be adequate to meet the requirement. Identifying large parcels of lands suitable for solar plants must get top priority.

Since solar plants are likely to come up only in certain parts of the country where solar radiation is high, creating adequate transmission infrastructure is very critical. The Centre has already launched a scheme at ₹2.44-lakh crore to increase inter-regional transmission capacity to evacuate 500 GW non-fossil fuel based energy by 2030 entailing 50,890 circuit KM transmission lines. But the gestation period is much longer than installing solar power stations. Hence concentrated focus is required to implement this project.

Reaching the green energy goal through non-fossil fuels by 2030 may be challenging but with resilience and timely policy push the desired goal can be scored.

The writer is Former Chairman, CIL. Views expressed are personal