Clean Tech

Fuelling change: From coal calamity to net-zero reality

V Rishi Kumar October 17 | Updated on October 18, 2021

A flexible renewable system can help India meet its surging energy demand and leapfrog other nations into a sustainable future


As India grapples with coal shortage and finds it unviable to set up nuclear power plants, renewable energy seems to be the only long-term silver lining.

The COP 26 meet at Glasgow next month is expected to provide both short-term and long-term carbon mitigation goals that nations will have to meet individually and collectively. With global agencies having already rung alarm bells vis-a-vis changing climate patterns, the power sector will be expected to change its energy mix.

An insightful report, ‘Front-loading Net Zero’, brought out by Finnish energy expert Wärtsilä, spells out steps for India to decarbonise its power system. The actionable pathway to achieve net zero electricity generation is to increase the share of renewable energy from 25 per cent today to 100 per cent before 2050. According to modelling by Wärtsilä and the Finnish Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology, India has the potential to cut electricity cost by 48 per cent, from $88 per megawatt hour in 2020 to $46 in 2050.

A key strategy that could make a difference is creating a flexible 100 per cent renewable system that addresses India’s rising energy dependency, which is forecast to double by 2030. This could generate new revenues from hydrogen production by creating a technology market worth $39.8 billion.

“India is among the world’s fastest growing economies. Our modelling shows a path to a clean power system that will catalyse India’s transformation into a global clean energy powerhouse, creating new jobs, insulating the system from energy shocks, and simultaneously playing a vital role in limiting global temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees Centigrade,” explains Sandeep Sarin, Market Development Manager India, Wärtsilä Energy, and co-author of the report.

According to him, India has a mountain to climb in re-configuring its energy system for net zero, but it’s possible with technologies that are already available at scale. He believes that, with planning, India can leapfrog developed nations into a sustainable future. But to do that, the country needs to act now.

Says Kashish Shah, Research Analyst, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, “Wärtsilä’s report accentuates the importance of flexible thermal generation using clean fuels such as green hydrogen to provide seasonal storage. India currently has 25 GW of gas-fired capacity that is underutilised due to viability and supply issues with fossil gas. There is an opportunity to retrofit these plants initially to co-fire them with green hydrogen and gradually move towards 100 per cent green hydrogen as its cost would reduce over the coming decades.”

Adds Sarin, “The report is aimed at encouraging ambitious policymaking ahead of COP26. The share of our power sector or electricity in the energy mix ranges between 20 per cent for India and 35- 40 per cent for developed countries. India needs approximately 4,002 GW of installed capacity to meet approximately 1,023 GW of peak demand and 5,921 TWh (terra watt hour is one trillion watt hour or 1,000 giga watt hour) of electricity over the next three decades.”

To ensure India decarbonises its power system, it must set ambitious targets to attract investors:

* Increase climate regulation for companies, including mandating consumers and power producers to meet a certain percentage of their requirements from renewable sources.

* Strengthen flexibility solutions, such as thermal balancing power plants and battery storage, to raise the share of renewables.

* Offer an incentive for production of electrolysers and create new demand centres equipped to cost-effectively develop and transport green hydrogen.

By 2050, India’s power demand is estimated to increase by 340 per cent. The modelling confirms this can be met through renewable energy, aided by solar energy, whose prices are among the lowest in the world.

India needs 4,000 GW of renewable system. New solar installations must rise by 885 per cent, from 7 GW a year to 69 GW by 2035 and 79 GW during 2035-50.

Solar power could potentially make up 76 per cent (3,076 GW) of total capacity by 2050, supported by wind energy of 410 GW, combined with hydro and carbon-neutral gas. Such huge capacity calls for flexible storage and innovative alternatives to using precious land resources.

The world is looking at India as a future powerhouse and a lot of capital is waiting to be pumped into the growth of its renewable energy sector. Concludes Anish De from KPMG: “The right mix of new renewable generation and flexibility can replace coal and gas-fired power, creating a clean and affordable system.”

Published on October 17, 2021

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