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Can India hold its greenhouse gas emissions by increasing its clean power capacity?

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India’s renewable energy target of 175GW by 2022 has recently increased to a new ambitious high of 450GW by 2030. However, building 600GW of renewable capacity can hold our 2030 greenhouse emissions below 2018 levels, according to the latest sustainability science study. This study published on the 30th of March 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a collaborative effort by the University of California, Santa Barbara, Berkeley National Laboratory & University of California, Berkeley. “This paper examines the electricity & carbon mitigation costs to reliably operate India’s grid in 2030 for a variety of wind & solar targets and proposing the most promising options for reducing these costs.” the authors mentioned in their study.

Although India is the third-largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, only behind the USA & China, our per capita emissions are nowhere near the developed world. This foretells a great potential in near-future energy demand as more Indians rise from poverty and become the urban middle class. According to estimates, our primary energy demand is expected to double by 2040. This poses a path-breaking challenge to India’s energy policy & long-term economic vision. Whether this looming energy hunger of our developing nation is answered by fossil fuels or renewables can set the course of global climate change, domestic energy industry & the Indian economy as a whole.

It is in this context that India has been paving the path to a fastened & prioritized transition to green energy. Our initial and revised renewable capacity targets have received much acclaim around the globe. The answers to the scepticism as to these being moonshots are two-fold. Firstly, India enjoys a strategic advantage with tropical geography & vast coastline. These have ensured abundant potential for harnessing solar & wind energies along with other renewables like hydro. Also, the increasing participation in clean energy innovation has made renewable tech competitive (and even cheaper in the case of solar PV!) to coal-fired power plants. And this trend is only more likely to further disincentivize fossil fuels.

“Contrary to prevailing assumptions, achieving high renewable energy targets will not avert the need to build new fossil fuel power plants. However, building significant numbers of wind and solar plants (600 GW) will reduce how often fossil fuel power plants must run, holding India’s 2030 electricity emissions at its 2018 level at costs comparable to a fossil fuel-dominated grid” opined the authors of the study. To elaborate, it means that for the medium-term growth, increasing renewable targets are to be supplemented with thermal power plants to ensure the satisfaction of potential energy demand rise. Therefore, this study suggests a more ambitious target for green energy to overshadow fossil fuels’ contribution and thereby holding our emission levels. This is an important suggestion to energy policy addressing a subtle misconception: that increasing renewables can just replace fossil fuels ever so speedily in a nation like ours. Green energy adoption & transition vs rapid growth is the dilemma of the 21st century developing world. India has boldly taken the side of a greener future all the while eyeing good growth. This has been possible thanks to policy decisiveness, industry encouragement & global renewables trends. So, this study not only acknowledges India’s vision but also doubles down on the side of realizable green energy economics.

“With likely wind and solar cost declines and increases in coal energy costs, balanced or wind-majority high renewable energy systems could result in electricity costs similar to a fossil fuel-dominated system.” the report said, reiterating that India’s foray into renewable energy is to be followed with renewed rigour and considerably help the efforts against global climate change. Since the study looks into the aspects of both the energy industry costs as well as economics, it serves useful in benchmarking future policies in those scales.

“As an alternative strategy for meeting peak electricity demand, battery storage can avert the need for new fossil fuel capacity but is cost-effective only at low capital costs. To avoid investments in new coal power plants, deploying battery storage will be essential.” suggesting that areas such as domestic energy security, grid operability & integration are still at the mercy of fossil fuel dominated power plants. But the future shines bright on the renewable energy industry in terms of innovation, economics & adoption.

“We found that high renewable energy targets can be cost-effective for India, thanks to falling prices. The key to achieving the lowest costs lies in finding the right mix of renewables on the electric grid.” said Ranjit Deshmukh, UC Santa Barbara Assistant Professor & Berkeley lab faculty scientist, the primary author of the paper.


Vijay Bhaskar

Senior Associate, Analytics

Amplus Solar

Amplus Solar

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