Bucking the Trend

Has Covid-19 resulted in any significant  gains for renewable energy generation?

By Dr Balasubramanian S., Researcher, Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru

Two phases of the all-India lockdown have ended and during these 40 days, peak power demand came down by around 25 per cent. The all-India peak demand hovered around 130 GW, which is just 35 per cent of the installed capacity of 370 GW. Last year, during the same period, the all-India peak demand fluctuated between 170 GW and 180 GW (installed capacity in 2019 stood at 356 GW). Correspondingly, with the decrease in demand, electricity supply too reduced significantly. During the 40 days of lockdown, power generation on an average came down by around 20 per cent compared to the same period last year. In this article, we will look at the changes in the generation portfolio in 2020 compared to that in 2019, and examine whether there were any significant gains for renewable energy during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Generation from renewable energy sources during the lockdown

Fig. 1 presents the electricity generation from different renewable energy sources between March 25 and May 3, for the years 2019 and 2020. The renewable energy sources under consideration are solar, wind, biopower and small-hydro. As can be observed in the figure, there has been a significant increase of about 18 per cent in solar generation in 2020 compared to 2019. Solar generation increased from 5,411 MUs in 2019 to 6,402 MUs in 2020. The cumulative generation from renewable energy sources in the 40-day period in 2019 was 13,166 MUs, which has reduced to 12,842 MUs in 2020, a reduction of around 2 per cent. The cumulative generation from wind power during this period in 2019 was 4,869 MUs, which has come down to 4,126 MUs during the same period in 2020. With respect to biopower and small-hydro, the cumulative generation in 2019 stood at 2,886 MUs, which has reduced to 2,314 MUs. Wind power generation has decreased by 15 per cent while the total generation from biopower and small hydro has decreased by about 20 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.

  What is the status of renewable energy generation?

To answer this question, we will look into the installed capacity of different renewable energy sources in 2019 and 2020. Table 1 presents the all-India installed renewable energy capacity as on March 31, 2019 and March 31, 2020. With respect to renewable energy sources, the installed solar energy capacity has increased very significantly from 28,181 MW to 34,628 MW, followed by wind energy from 35,626 MW to 37,694 MW.

Even though the cumulative reduction in generation from renewable energy sources was just 2 per cent, it is a major loss when compared with the installed capacity, because 10,000 MW of renewable energy capacity was added in 2020 up to March 31. Solar power generation in 2020 has increased by 18 per cent, but there is also an increase of about 6,500 MW in the installed capacity.

Electricity generation from conventional sources during lockdown

Figs. 2 and 3 present the electricity generation from conventional sources from March 25 to May 3, 2019 and the same period in 2020 respectively. The conventional sources considered here are coal, lignite, gas, naphtha and diesel, nuclear and hydropower. The cumulative electricity generation in those 40 days in 2019 was 139,346 MUs and it has reduced to 102,501 MUs in 2020, showing a reduction of 26 per cent.

As we can observe from Figs. 2 and 3, the largest reduction in electricity generation is experienced in the coal sector. The cumulative electricity generation in 2019 was 112,368 MUs and it has reduced to 75,328 MUs in 2020, a decrease of 33 per cent. With respect to lignite, the cumulative generation in those 40 days in 2019 has been 3,491 MUs and it has reduced to 3,050 MUs during the same period in 2020. The hydro sector too experienced a decrease from 15,023 MUs to 14,054 MUs. The reduction in electricity generation in the lignite and hydro segments is around 13 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. However, the generation from gas, naphtha and diesel in total has recorded a 15 per cent increase in 2020, compared to 2019, while nuclear has recorded a 25 per cent increase at the same time. The cumulative generation from gas, naphtha and diesel in 2019 was 4,841 MUs and it has increased to 5,546 MUs in 2020 and the corresponding numbers for nuclear are 3,623 and 4,523 MUs.

Status of conventional generation

Let us ascertain the status of India’s installed capacity in 2019 and 2020. Table 2 presents the all-India installed capacity as on March 31, 2019 and 2020. The all-India installed capacity as on March 31, 2019 is 356,100 MW and it has increased to 370,100 MW by March 31, 2020. During this time period, the majority of the increase occurred in the renewable energy sector. In 2019 the total installed capacity of renewable energy sources was 77,642 MW and it has increased to 87,028 MW in 2020. The coal sector also experienced a significant increase.

During the lockdown, with respect to conventional generation sources, only gas, naphtha, diesel and nuclear power have shown a significant increase in electricity generation. Coal, lignite and nuclear have experienced a significant decrease in electricity generation, with an increase in the installed capacity. However, generation from gas and diesel has increased with the reduction in installed capacity. Further, with the same installed capacity, the generation from nuclear has recorded a significant increase.

To conclude, renewable energy electricity generation has experienced significant losses during the Covid-19 lockdown. A recent study by the International Energy Agency concludes, “Renewable energy is the only winner in the historic decline in energy demand.” However, that is not the case with India, where renewable energy too faced significant losses due to Covid-19. The point that needs to be noted here is that renewable energy generation is highly fluctuating due to the intermittent nature of generation sources. Considering this fact, the sector has experienced a significant decline during these 40 days of lockdown as against the world trend. Further, with respect to conventional sources, a major loss is experienced by the coal sector with a decrease in electricity generation (33 per cent), followed by other sectors. Only the gas, diesel and nuclear segments did not face a decrease in electricity generation. The interesting point here is, in 2019, only 50 per cent of the available capacity was utilised to meet the demand and the capacity utilisation has reduced by 35 per cent during the lockdown in 2020. So, this loss is not new to the power sector. It is just a further decrease in capacity utilisation, which has become normal in the Indian electricity system in recent years.

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