India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, is witnessing a continuous rise in demand for clean energy. To meet the country’s energy needs, the government has announced various schemes to ensure everyone, including rural populations, is connected to the electricity grid.
Though well-intended, those schemes have been unable to reach their expected potential, highlighting how complex universal access to electricity can be. For instance, linking homes to transmission sources through ‘last mile’ connectivity has proven difficult because of bottlenecks caused by numerous compliance requirements.
And grid connections alone are not enough, the electricity supplied needs to reliable or productivity and quality of life will suffer.
The large gap between power supply and demand is the root cause of subtly worsening power quality across India. Despite various efforts by successive governments, the shortage of power is still a cause of concern. The grim-looking financial state of many electricity distribution companies exacerbates the situation, with debt-saddled discoms nevertheless tasked with having to connect rural areas. The result is often a compromise on quality to reduce costs.
The crippled financial state of so many discoms leaves them unable to fulfill their basic mandate by procuring enough power generation to meet demand, never mind investing in clean energy facilities.
It is electricity users who pay the price, by receiving poor quality electricity, but power generators also suffer if discoms cannot pay for their electricity and can end up defaulting on service contracts.
With the world turning its back on polluting power generation and many governments legislating to support the adoption of ever-cheaper solar and wind power plants, the federal government is doing its bit. The India Energy Policy Review 2020 published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated the energy and emissions intensity of India’s GDP have fallen by more than 20% in the last decade. Energy demand, however, is expected to double by 2040 and electrification could see electricity demand treble in that time.
India has one of the largest unified power grids in the world to operate in a single frequency. The nation has earned praise from the IEA for its untiring endeavors to liberalize its energy market and introduce necessary reforms while striving for universal access to electricity. The power supplied, however, remains inadequate and unreliable.
The government is undoubtedly implementing reforms with the aim of providing a secure, affordable and sustainable energy system to provide the impetus for robust economic growth. Still, the need of the hour is a major shift towards renewables and much more liberalized policies – with less bureaucracy.
India’s achievements in the last decade in accelerating renewables generation capacity have been remarkable but are still not enough to satisfy most of its population’s needs. Liberal policies and less compliance red tape would attract the renewables investment needed.
The introduction of national, competitive solar and wind auctions is a welcome step in the right direction but to further ensure renewables progress, auction design, grid connections and discom financial health are critical questions to address.
Today, renewables contribute a significant share of the nation’s electricity mix. While hydropower used to be the dominant source of renewable electricity in India, more and more impetus is now being given to solar and wind.
Amid technological advances, reports suggest the volume of solar electricity generated rose an average 64% per year from 2007-16, faster than wind power, at 14%. Given India’s economic growth has resulted in more energy consumption, solar is expected to become a dependable, friendlier option for consumers, reducing coal dependence.
More solar means less fossil fuel consumption and, consequently, lower carbon emissions. Solar-wind hybrid power plants, although at a nascent stage, are fast becoming the favored clean energy option of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), which adopted a National Wind Solar Hybrid Policy in 2018.
India has been leading the world on that front and has set itself the milestone of 175 GW of renewables capacity by 2022. That ambitious target is a clear expression of Indian efforts to take action against global climate change.
The milestone also needs to be viewed under the lens of accelerating India’s energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Indian energy demand has gradually increased in agriculture and industry as well as in commercial and residential sectors, and further progress is on the anvil. Renewable energy sources, that self-replenish at a much faster rate than the rate of consumption, are the answer to all human energy needs in the near future.
The IEA analysis stated Indian investment in solar in 2018 was greater than for all fossil fuel sources of electricity combined. Energy efficiency is receiving more attention than ever, with standards being set for consumption across economic sectors. The NITI Aayog national policy thinktank and the U.S.-based Rocky Mountain Institute published the Towards a Clean Energy Economy: Post-Covid-19 Opportunities for India’s Energy and Mobility Sectors report which, among other things, seeks to spur enterprises to build a clean, robust and minimal-cost energy future for India.
Renewable energy has become one of the most important areas of discussion and deliberation as it provides a certain degree of optimism to the world and, in all probability, will govern future energy needs by proving economically viable. Harnessing the energy available naturally is a challenge, but we are arriving at the point of embracing it and making robust decisions for our environment.
About the writer: Rakshika Kaul is general manager for legal at the Amp Energy India arm of Canadian renewables developer Amp Energy.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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