Views of R.K. Singh

“There is no competition between renewables and thermal”

R.K. Singh, Minister of State (Independent Charge), for Power and New and Renewable Energy

As part of the Paris Climate agreement, India had committed to achieve 40 per cent of its installed electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. R.K. Singh, minister of state (independent charge) for power and new and renewable energy, is hopeful that this target will be surpassed with renewables (including large hydro) accounting for around 55 per cent of the total installed base by 2030. He has been emphasising the role of disruptive technologies like storage that will make renewable energy systems more efficient. Excerpts from Singh’s remarks at recent industry events, highlighting the progress of the renewable energy sector and the issues that impact its growth…

Power consumption

We are living in times of change, more so in this country than in other parts of the world. Never in the past has this scale of change happened. Our demand is growing at a rate of 6.5 per cent. We have one of the largest ongoing grid expansion programmes in the world. We are set to add 40 million new consumers to the grid by December 2018. We are a growing economy and are expected to grow even faster. All this has implications for the power sector and power consumption. The expansion of the grid to consumers and the increase in per capita income will lead to a much higher rate of demand growth. We need to be prepared on two fronts. First, development is an imperative. We need to bring our people above the poverty line. Second, we need to raise their standard of living so that they can afford better educational institutions, proper healthcare, and secure employment. That means our per capita power consumption, which is just 1,200 units at present, will go up two to three times. We will grow to meet our development requirements and with this our consumption is bound to go up in a substantial manner.

Emissions intensity reduction

We have another ongoing movement for sustainability. Most of the countries in the world are concerned about the environment and there are calls for reducing emissions and energy intensity. We believe that we need to leave behind a healthier planet for our future generations. We have set a target of reducing the emissions intensity of our economy by 33 per cent compared to the 2005 levels. The potential for reducing our emissions intensity is huge. We will be working with the rest of the world to reduce the energy intensity of our economy. However, if you ask us to prioritise, our first priority will be development. Also, when we talk about reducing the energy intensity, instead of asking consumers with 1,200 unit consumption to reduce their usage or moderate their goals, we must ask those who consume seven to eight times more to reduce their consumption first.

Coal issues

Currently, coal is an issue. Thermal capacity has been constrained and we need to do something about it. Companies like NTPC and the Damodar Valley Corporation will also need to become adept at mining coal. Their coal mining wings will have to be strengthened and their mines operationalised. That is something we will have to do to meet the growing demand, more so, as no state government wants to put up with load shedding. We don’t see many new coal mines coming into operation by 2030 to meet all our demand. In fact, the existing coal mines are not sufficient to meet the current coal demand of all thermal plants. That is why we have so many thermal plants that are lying idle. If you give them coal, they will produce power and sell it in the open market. Coal is a constraint and that is the other reason why renewables will continue to grow.

Thermal vs renewables

There is no competition between renewables and thermal. The imperative is that we need to add renewables to keep to our commitments. The reality is that there is so much of suppressed demand in the country and it will increase as more consumers are connected. Thus, the current capacity of about 345 GW is not enough. We will also start penalising load shedding through the Tariff Policy changes.

Exceeding targets

India has chosen the path of sustainable growth and we want to leave a green planet for our future generations. That is why our focus now will be on renewable energy. We have set a national goal that by 2040, 40 per cent of the capacity will be from renewables, and we will cross that. If we include large hydro, 30 per cent of installed capacity is already coming from renewable sources. This includes 72 GW of renewables and around 46 GW of hydro capacity. We have set a target for ourselves that by 2022, we will reach an installed capacity of 175 GW from wind, solar and biomass. While we have already reached 72 GW, about 20 GW of capacity is under implementation, 27 GW has been bid out, and we have further bids lined up. We may more than achieve our target of 40 per cent renewables by 2020. Moreover, we are aiming to generate 100 per cent renewable energy in Lakshadweep and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. We are also ready to share our expertise with other small island nations.

Hydropower

Renewables by themselves are not sufficient and must be balanced. Balancing has to be done across the board. A disappointing trend has been the sustained agitation against hydropower projects during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Such agitations have received a lot of foreign funding as well. This had stalled our hydropower programme; however, we now plan to revive it. Also, hydropower needs to be used as peaking power rather than as baseload. This is an area that we need to incentivise commercially. This will require persuading states that use hydro as baseload to move away from that. This is difficult as certain states, like Punjab and Haryana, are getting power at extremely low tariffs of 30 paise per unit from old hydropower stations. In future, as more and more renewables get added to the grid, we will also consider including large hydro projects as part of the renewable energy sector.

Electric vehicles, charging infrastructure and storage

We are going to encourage disruptive technologies. So, our focus now will be on storage. Future bids of renewable energy projects will include storage. We will also come up with a storage policy that encourages the manufacturing of storage technologies in India. In terms of pricing, renewable energy already beats thermal energy. On a lighter note, I believe that the simultaneous growth in renewable energy with storage will ensure that the fossil fuels that are underground remain underground. As storage technologies become cheaper, we will make sure that our consumption pattern shifts towards e-mobility, which will further reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

We will soon come out with an electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure policy, which will also allow individuals to set up charging stations for commercial use to boost e-mobility. We have circulated the EV Charging Policy for comments. It will allow everybody to set up charging infrastructure without the need for any kind of a licence. The ministry is working to set up EV charging stations at petrol pumps and some developments in this space were visible last year.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency saves the environment and makes businesses more competitive. While India needs to grow, we need to grow responsibly and the government has taken several measures in this regard. Innovations in the field of energy efficiency are also critical to meet our greenhouse gas emission targets.

We have brought about a near revolution in lighting. Almost all villages are now lit by LED lights and not incandescent bulbs. Street lights have been changed to LEDs. By just changing the lights, we have been able to achieve 60 per cent energy savings in lighting. In the near future, we will try to completely switch to LED consumption.

Outlook

Power demand is growing at 6.5 per cent and is expected to go up to even 9 per cent. The pressures are going to be huge, but they are part of the economic development challenge. We are trying to roll out renewable energy as quickly as possible. We have the entire global community competing for whatever we auction. I am very sure that we will achieve both our targets – growth in renewable energy capacity and reduction in the emissions intensity of the economy.

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