Opinion

Rewiring India: What’s needed for faster energy transition

N Venu | Updated on: May 18, 2022
Making the green energy shift

Making the green energy shift | Photo Credit: urfinguss

Boosting energy efficiency, speeding up permits for renewables energy, front-loading investments are the need of the hour

By 2050, electricity will be the backbone of the global energy system, and renewables will be the primary generation source; in some countries this transition will be much faster.

In India’s case, however, BloombergNEF, an energy research firm, estimates that we could fall short of our 2022 renewable energy generation capacity targets by 36 per cent.

What do we have to do to catch up and meet our 2030 goals?

Energy access — ensuring reliable power for all — is every nation’s socio-economic prerogative. Over the past decade, India has added new electricity connections for 50 million people each year. Thus far, coal and oil have fuelled industrial growth and energy needs.

A 2020 study by Pew Research Centre found that a quarter of India’s population prioritises job creation, even at the cost of the environment. When energy security comes into conflict with climate change ambitions, the latter is likely to lose.

Till it becomes a tangible existential threat. The COP26 summit last year catalogued countries that are moving away from fossil fuels due to climate change. Without intervention, estimates suggest that the effects of climate change will cost India $35 trillion until 2070, its target date for achieving carbon neutrality; this cost does not account for the lives lost from increased drought and floods, the pace of which has been accelerating.

Such adversity has been exacerbated by the lack of coordinated urban planning; a NITI Aayog report underscored the lack of a master plan in 65 per cent of the country’s 7,933 urban settlements. Mumbai unveiled an integrative master plan, grounded in multi-sectoral convergence and collaborative efforts.

The plan outlined investments in housing, electrifying public transport and more walkable roads; flood-resistant drainage, rooftop solar capacities, and among others. It also secured commitments from private power generators to deliver 3,400MW of electricity from renewable-only power sources, ensuring energy security.

Also at COP26, India set itself an ambitious goal of 500 GW of non-fossil fuel electricity capacity by 2030 from around 160 GW today. In 2021 alone, India added 10 GW of solar capacity, or 62 per cent of all new power generation capacity added in the year.

However, per a recent study by IIT Delhi, a country with 300 days of sunshine lost 29 per cent of its utilisable solar irradiance due to air pollution, making Gigawatt hours a more representative way to measure our solar power generation capacity. Hence the commitment to meet 50 per cent of electricity requirements from renewable energy sources by 2030 — a focus on output instead of installed capacity — is the goal we must action on.

Going ahead India will need higher investment in grid infrastructure, grid automation, distributed grids, battery storage systems — all technologies that exist today but need sharper focus.

Green hydrogen

Even in 2050, coal will command around a quarter of India’s electricity generation. We need boost energy efficiency, speed up permits for renewables energy, front-loading investments, among others.

Initiatives have emerged in the recent Union and State budgets; now, they need to be integrated into a concerted approach that also delivers. Delhi announced plans for 1 lakh “green” jobs in five years; but unless woven into a multi-state effort — as is being imagined in the eight-year national “just transition” strategy — that pales in comparison to the millions of people in the thermal energy workforce.

In 2017, at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogues, Angus McCrone, Chief Editor of BloombergNEF, said: “India is an important example of what happens to emissions worldwide.” Let’s show them.

The writer is MD and CEO, India and South Asia region, Hitachi Energy

Published on May 18, 2022
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