India’s renewable energy (RE) growth is at an inflection point. 

In less than a decade, the country has made rapid strides with multiple giga watt (GW) scale projects coming up across the country. Some innovative hybrid projects of solar and wind have taken off, and green hydrogen and pumped storage projects are at the early stage of implementation.

According to official figures, India’s installed renewable energy capacity has increased 396 per cent in the last eight-and-a half years and stands at more than 159.95 GW (including power generated by large hydro plants), which is about 40 per cent of the country’s total capacity as of March 2022.

Things would have been even brighter but for the pandemic. Notes Shirish S Garud, Senior Fellow and Director, Renewable Energy Technologies Division at TERI — “While over the past decade we have made significant strides in the RE sector, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted many sectors. The solar tendering process got disrupted and hampered the progress. Construction of plants moved at a slow pace in some cases. Progress was hampered by issues like supply chain disturbances.”

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister on August 3 approved India’s Updated Nationally Determined Contribution to be communicated to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a part of achieving net-zero by 2070. It now stands committed to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 45 per cent by 2030 from the 2005 level and achieve about 50 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.

Hence, the next leap towards decarbonisation calls for the framing and implementing of collective and innovative strategies by the Centre and the States. A recent report by TERI—’What India needs to do to achieve net-zero status by 2070’— makes this observation—“The focus for India will now be on increasing the share of RE in energy production and generation both in relative terms and absolute volume, so as to eventually phase down consumption of coal and fossil fuels taking place in the economy across various sectors and improving the carbon sink.”

Recently, the minister for new and renewable energy stated in Parliament that 123 GW of solar capacity was either commissioned or is in the pipeline as against 100 GW planned by December 2022. Given the advantage of abundant sunlight, India is now targeting setting up of 500 GW of solar capacity by 2030.

Solar-wind hybrid

Wind energy can also contribute to achieving 2030 and 2070 targets. Wind has the estimated potential of generating 300 GW with technology currently available in India. It can also compliment solar power as it is available during the nights and during monsoons when solar power generation is low. “I see a major role for wind power in the future. And we have huge potential for offshore wind power along our coasts,” says Shirish Garud.

Renewable power can also meet other energy demands as in cooking, fuel, heating, and industrial energy. According to experts, the use of renewables beyond power generation will increase in the days to come. Similarly, biofuels, and hydrogen-based renewables will be put to use in various sectors, especially in transport and industry.

These are early days, but hydrogen as a fuel and pumped storage battery backup could play a significant role in the years to come. Explains Garud,

“Hydrogen and energy storage are important pillars for decarbonizing our economy. Hydrogen will play a major role in decarbonizing hard to abate industries such as steel, cement, fertilizer and refineries. While energy storage technologies like pumped hydro and battery storage are going to be critical technologies for grid management in the light of increasing share of renewables in the grid. Recently, the Ministry of Power has announced new targets for Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPOs). These are going to be much higher in the range of 25 to 40 per cent and above. In such a scenario, role of hydrogen and energy storage technologies is going to be important,”

Need for technology

The development of technologies that support renewable energy and creating appropriate green market conditions are all critical in achieving decarbonization goals. While industries are expected to play an important role in generating demand for RE across sectors, the government needs to focus on ensuring technology development and local production.

Creation of different business models and markets will ensure competitiveness in the RE sector. For this to happen, industry, business leaders and governments, both at the Centre and in the states must work in a more cohesive manner and with a single goal of decarbonizing the economy.