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RENEWABLE ENERGY Replacing exhaustible with endless: Transitioning India’s renewable stature

Jun 14, 2021

India aims to reduce its emission intensity by 33% by 2030, but various loopholes hinder the growth. Especially given the COVID crisis, there are multiple factors further hindering domestic growth. The article, with expert opinions from companies like Waaree Group, Visaka Industries, Lord's Mark Industries and ENERCON WindEnergy, explains India’s development so far, the weak points, challenges, technology trends and solutions for proliferating India’s renewable energy portfolio.

Renewable Energy (RE) sources have been establishing a growing prowess and have kick-started the shift to sustainability, reducing the carbon footprint and enabling a greener world slowly. According to International Energy Agency (IEA), the share of RE in the global energy mix is set to grow from the current 11% to over 20% by 2040. While the transformation to RE was in pipelines, driven mainly by climate change, COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst globally. As per PowerTechnology, the pandemic-led lockdowns led to an 8% decline in energy-related emissions and a 6% decline in energy demand, which increased renewable’s share in electricity. India, till February 2020, had an RE share of 23.9%, i.e., 368.98 GW in the total installed generation capacity. As part of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Peace Agreement for the period 2021-2030, India aims to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP by 33% by 2030 from the 2005 level and achieve 40% cumulative electric power installed from non-fossil fuel-based energy sources with the help of technology and low-cost international finance by 2030. But the growth trajectory on energy generation shows a steep decline post 2014-15. While 2014-15 witnessed an 8.84% growth in total generation, 2019-20 had only 0.95% growth, and until February 2021, there was a -2.49% growth (Acc to GOI Ministry of Power) (see graph).

The poster boy for the world

Experts believe, going forward, India’s growth trajectory in energy consumption will be the fastest among all significant economies by 2040 and is gathering speed with RE increasing its share. Chiranjeev Saluja, MD, Premier Energies, advocates, “India has set an ambitious RE expansion target of achieving 175 GW capacity by 2022 & 450 GW by 2030. To achieve this, allocating additional capital infusion of ₹1000 crores to Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) and ₹1500 crores to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) will boost the non-conventional energy sector. This could be further augmented through the issuance of ‘green bonds’ to RE investments.” However, Dr PKC Bose, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Enercon Windenergy, argues that the grand target needs more. “The government’s commitment to achieving 175 GW by 2030 is quite ambitious; however, the domestic use of green energy is still deficient in India, which needs to be changed in order to achieve the set target,” he opines.

The Government of India has been active in offering its support for the renewables sector and enhancing local manufacturing of RE machinery, components and equipment. Initiatives like PM-KUSUM, solar rooftops, CPSU, PLI scheme for encouraging the production of high-efficiency solar modules, safeguard duty on imported solar cells, etc are all steps in the right direction, but more needs to be done given the pandemic slowdown. Transparency and clarification on existing policies will go a long way in bringing the manufacturers at ease. Dr Hitesh Doshi, Chairman and Managing Director, Waaree Group, believes that the country lacks a holistic manufacturing ecosystem to produce raw materials at competitive prices locally. Uncertainty may even discourage domestic players from purchasing solar modules from Indian manufacturers ahead of the expiry of safeguard duties in July 2021. As the BCD comes into effect in April 2022, India will become a dumping ground for solar modules with no duty barriers on imports for nine months.

Moreover, it is imperative to protect the current interest of the domestic manufacturers and infuse confidence among them. Doshi suggests, “The government needs to urgently ramp up domestic production of raw materials to enable us to increase manufacturing capacities. Additionally, we also need to invest in R&D to introduce innovations that will help us increase output without impacting manufacturing costs.”

Challenges in the change

Several businesses, like manufacturing, IT, real estate, construction, etc, consume a lot of fossil fuels not because there is no other option for energy but because it is abundant and cheap to use. Vamsi Gaddam, JMD, Visaka Industries, avers, “Most RE policies enact or revise focus on the power sector, yet a big challenge for the RE industry has been the competition from heavily subsidised conventional energy.” Compared to conventional energy sources like fossil fuels, the electricity generation capabilities of renewable energy are not large enough to cater to the power requirements of industries. Sachidanand Upadhyay, CEO & Director, Lord’s Mark Industries, asserts, “The installation of RE facilities requires a large upfront capital outlay with high-maintenance expenses. The lack of a strong transmission and distribution network has the potential to make RE a commercially unviable option in the long run.” To make RE more attractive, India needs stringent policy frameworks, entrenched technological developments and incentives to promote it. Bose believes, “The Indian corporates are still not committed, which needs to be changed. If Indian corporates commit using 50% of their energy requirement through RE, it will be a game-changer for the country.”

Tech trends in RE

The basic principle of using renewables is to extract energy from a constant source in the environment, like the sun, the wind or geothermal sources. Gaddam cites, “The range of technologies that cater to generation, storage and distribution forms the biggest energy industry trends.” IoT-enabled application in the form of sensors attached to power generation, transmission and distribution are pivotal to driving sustainable energy production. “IoT-driven solutions facilitate the implementation of analytics and data processing solutions to prevent unplanned downtime and optimise power generation. It can help reduce wastages through real-time data generation facilitating greater control over resources and remote monitoring of equipment on a real-time basis,” discloses Upadhyay. IoT will also play a key role in maximising the efficiencies of grid management, enabling the inclusion of more distributed resources into the grid, implementing smart grid technology to provide benefits of reduced power costs for consumers and lower operational costs for power utilities.

Trends in the sun: With the emergence of solar energy technology, there has been a significant use of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) through microgrid controlling, enabling smart and centralised control of the system. Saluja explains, “AI makes it possible to learn from Big Data, which will change the way we control RE. Focusing on things like weather forecasts and load predictions will help us better integrate this energy into the grid.” Automation in terms of asset management is another emerging trend that allows monitoring of the plant & machinery, and it gradually decreases the dependency on manual processes. It also enables the industry to set newer business targets and use technology optimally to achieve goals. “Technological advances in solar energy are not only helping industries keep up with the growing trend but is also catering to the growing demand,” adds Saluja.

Trends in the wind: There are some excellent innovations taking place in the wind energy sector, too. For example, using carbon fibre for producing the longer blades for reducing weight instead of glass fibre, modular generators that are compact and highly efficient in performance, Modular Steel Tower (MST), etc. Bose mentions, “The impact of implementing the changes will be reduction in energy & maintenance cost, more environmental-friendly solutions, etc.”

The future outlook

A clear focus on increasing the share of RE in the overall energy mix will drive inclusive growth of the country by providing energy access to all sections of the populations, particularly the marginal and the disadvantaged. Gaddam mentions, “What ails India is that it does not have an overarching energy roadmap. What we have are a bunch of policies that are focused on short-term solutions. What we need is a national strategy, where all constituents – generators, distributors, financiers, bureaucrats and the country’s central and state leadership - come together and utilise the abundant resources available.” To power ahead, Saluja mentions, “Firstly, the government should aggressively promote renewable-solar integrated Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) by bringing the required regulatory and fiscal incentives to this segment to help store and stabilise power. They can also help in addressing the limitations of RE and in the growth of microgrid or off-grid projects.” He continues, “Secondly, the government must ensure a stable policy framework on renewables which is followed both at the centre and state levels. This includes enforcing the amendments in the Electricity Act of 2003, privatisation of T&D systems and continuing higher allocations of funds to upgrade both inter-state and intra-state transmission networks.”

Though the government has permitted 100% FDI in the RE sector, Upadhyay suggests, “The government and industry must collectively work towards increasing the penetration of RE in the overall power mix to make electricity systems cost-optimal, & productive and commit to increasing the R&D investments in clean energy technologies.” With one of the longest coastlines, we should focus on developing commercial coastal wind farms. The arid Thar is again an opportunity to develop massive solar energy farms. Solar energy is the most cost-effective option for India to reduce energy poverty and help remote & rural areas get access to electricity. The need of the hour is a very cohesive approach by all stakeholders, which is missing heavily. Bose suggests, “Once the government introduces the international standard of policies, regulations and systems, India can be much stronger in the global map of RE for sure.”

Cohesively giving what RE needs for future

The demand for clean energy will continue to grow given the growing population, GDP, boosted urbanisation, the commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, etc. Though emission intensity to GDP improves significantly, it gets dampened due to the continuous increase in absolute emissions. It implies capacity addition would not be sufficient to make energy systems clean; it would be essential to improve RE generation by improving efficiency. India has always been a cost-sensitive market. Cost elasticity will be crucial for higher penetration; lower the cost of installing and maintaining, higher the chances of newer capacity addition. We need to actively come up with game plan to make full-fledged use of our islands and coastlines for RE generation. Technology needs to be the key driver of this change for global advancement and cost optimisation. The government and companies need to work in tandem to drive the required technological and R&D developments to achieve the prescribed goals by 2030.

Image Gallery

  • Graph showing growth in total generation by Government of India‘s Ministry of Power

  • The government must ensure a stable policy framework on renewables which is followed both at the centre and the state levels. This includes enforcing the amendments in the Electricity Act of 2003, privatisation of T&D systems and continuing higher allocations of funds to upgrade both inter-state and intra-state transmission networks. - Chiranjeev Saluja, MD, Premier Energies

  • What we need is a national strategy, where all constituents – generators,
    distributors, financiers, bureaucrats and the country’s central and state leadership – come together and utilise the abundant resources available
    - Vamsi Gaddam, JMD, Visaka Industries

  • The Indian corporates are still not committed, which needs to be changed. If Indian corporates commit using 50% of their energy requirement through RE, it will be a game-changer for the country. - Dr PKC Bose, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Enercon WindEnergy

  • The government needs to urgently ramp up domestic production of raw materials to enable us to increase manufacturing capacities. Additionally, we also need to invest in R&D to introduce innovations that will help us increase output without impacting manufacturing costs. - Dr Hitesh Doshi, CMD, Waaree Group

  • IoT-driven solutions facilitate the implementation of analytics and data processing solutions to prevent unplanned downtime and optimise power generation. It can help reduce wastages through real-time data generation facilitating greater control over resources. - Sachidanand Upadhyay, CEO & Director, Lord’s Mark Industries

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