By K Raveendran
Even as coal is coming back with a vengeance to peak India’s energy mix in the next 15 years, the country’s clean energy outlook is also brightening. As the government pushes ahead with green energy initiatives, an energy think-tank estimates that by 2038, however, all renewable sources put together will surpass fossil fuels in India’s power generation. As much as 70 percent of the country’s total electricity production is currently on account of coal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the other day that renewable energy capacity increased two-and-a-half times in the past six years that the government plans to produce 40 GW power through rooftop solar in next one-and-a-half years. Similarly, the PM-KUSUM scheme seeks to transform farmers into energy entrepreneurs, targeting to create 30-GW solar capacity through small plants in their fields.
Think-tank Rystad Energy expects India’s electricity generation to increase with an average annual growth of 4.2 percent, effectively tripling its current level over the next 30 years, but at the same time forecasts that today’s power mix will be unrecognizable in three decades, by which time wind, solar, hydro, and biofuels will surpass fossil fuels in the total power generation.
New solar and wind projects are projected to accelerate the growth of renewable power generation. According to current estimates, electricity produced by solar PV to grow to 65 TWh in 2021 from 55 TWh in 2020, and then rise further to 128 TWh through 2025 and 233 TWh in 2030. Similarly, power generated by onshore wind turbines is set to rise from 82 TWh in 2021 to 143 TWh in 2025. In 2030, electricity produced from this source is expected at 254 TWh.
Solar power production will continue to grow even more after 2030, but as onshore wind is also set for a massive boost, solar is expected to overtake onshore wind towards the end of 2050. The only fossil fuel to see an uninterrupted rise in use towards 2050 is gas, even though its share will never become a significant one for India. The think-tank expects gas-generated electricity to rise to 73 TWh in 2021 from 71 TWh in 2020, and then reach 85 TWh in 2025 and 128 TWh in 2030 – by which time it will make up about 5 percent of the total power mix.
Many countries around the world are relying on gas to transition away from coal and into renewables. However, given the limited access to gas supplies and the country’s economic dependence on the coal industry, India is expected to continue to use coal power to provide stability for the exponential growth in renewable power generation.
With tens of gigawatts of coal plants still under construction and in the planning phase, capacity from this source is expected to continue to increase and reach a peak of 265 GW by 2027. After this, coal capacity is forecast to remain relatively stable and then drop sharply in the 2040s as renewables continue to grow exponentially and the government puts more focus on reducing carbon emissions.
A notable feature of the emerging energy scene is an expected boom in solar PV development. Solar PV capacity is forecast to overtake coal by 2036 and could reach almost 650 GW by 2050. The country’s excellent solar conditions, the strength of solar PV as a distributed energy source and the continued cost decline of utility-scale solar PV are big boosts for India’s solar energy outlook. Wind, both onshore and offshore, is also expected to follow a similar path, reaching 575 GW of installed capacity by 2050.
To support this massive integration of renewable intermittent energy sources, there is need for a strong increase in energy storage in the long term, estimated to total 31 GW by 2030, 93 GW by 2040 and 224 GW by 2050. However, coal is seen to provide continued baseload and stability to the system in the long term. In the short term, however, storage capacity remains dominated by pumped hydro, by far the most widespread technology today.
Another highly promising energy area in the country is a projected growth within the battery energy storage segment. With most of the growth coming after 2035, this technology is seen to be the best option for short-term balancing between demand and supply, as well as an excellent source for frequency control and overall grid support in renewable energy-dominated systems. (IPA Service)