Taking charge as secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) during the challenging Covid-19 period, Indu Shekhar Chaturvedi has been working towards devising appropriate policy and regulatory measures to create a viable renewable energy sector for investors and consumers. In a forward-looking address at the third edition of the Global Renewable Energy Investment and Expo (RE-Invest), Chaturvedi highlighted the MNRE’s strategy to drive domestic manufacturing, strengthen international relations and implement the One Sun, One World, One Grid project. He also reiterated the importance of technology advancements and the government’s continued support for R&D initiatives. Excerpts…
The global energy ecosystem is in the midst of a transformation. We are definitely moving towards cleaner energy systems and the definition of energy security is also changing. It is not limited to access to fossil fuels, but also includes access to clean renewable energy systems. This transition is only going to accelerate in the time to come. The net global renewable power capacity additions have already outpaced the combined capacity additions of power from fossil fuels and nuclear sources.
Looking ahead, this momentum is definitely likely to continue, especially with the growing public fascination with renewable energy sources. Indeed, there is something wondrous about being able to power our homes and factories with power gathered from the sun or the wind. This public push will continue to influence public policy, resulting in a greater uptake of renewable energy. The greater deployment of renewable energy will also be facilitated by technological breakthroughs. For instance, advancements in energy storage are widely anticipated. Green hydrogen is another emerging area where a massive amount of research is being undertaken. There is some consensus among industries and academics that there will be major breakthroughs in these areas.
Technology advancements and manufacturing
Solar cell efficiencies are constantly improving, while solar power prices are falling rapidly. We recently discovered a record low solar tariff of Rs 2 per kWh in a Solar Energy Corporation of India auction. In addition, even decentralised and off-grid solar systems have become cost competitive. We are aware that these decentralised applications of solar energy are important, particularly in rural areas. We have also drafted a paper in this regard, which is available on our website for stakeholder consultation. It is our hope that as energy storage technology advances and its cost goes down, the deployment of decentralised applications will automatically scale up.
We have a research and development (R&D) programme, whereby we fund various R&D institutions. There is a quite elaborate procedure to select these facilities and then monitor their progress. We have funded a number of elite institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, in a massive way. We intend to continue doing this not by unevenly distributing our resources, but by focusing on a few key institutions at a time, continuing to persevere with them and staying the course.
That said, as far as manufacturing is concerned, this segment is in quite a state of flux and the issue is likely to become more complex before things get simplified. Public policy formulation becomes tough when the technology landscape changes so rapidly. Moreover, there are complex geostrategic issues to take into consideration. However, our focus is clear, and we are making efforts to scale up the country’s domestic manufacturing capabilities. Now, the question is how to go about it. There are a number of instruments that are under consideration. The cabinet has already approved an instrument for production-linked incentive for high efficiency solar modules. However, there is a question regarding what kind of technology we should encourage. There are various new technologies being developed based on our interactions with R&D institutions. Further, we have a Project Development Cell and a Foreign Direct Investment Cell to promote investments in this space. There is also the related issue of cost competitiveness, which raises questions regarding what sort of props manufacturers need, at least in the initial years. Thus, we expect more certainty and clarity in this space over the next few months.
“Public policy formulation becomes tough when the technology landscape changes so rapidly. Moreover, there are complex geostrategic issues to take into consideration.”
Going forward, we are likely to see greater international cooperation. India has been instrumental in the creation of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). There are also increasing collaborations between various other countries. For instance, Australia has announced massive plans for the deployment of hydrogen capacities to enable it to become a global player in the export of hydrogen. This hydrogen will be supplied to countries like Japan and Korea. Looking ahead, this sort of collaboration, trade and global interaction is only likely to grow, which is beneficial for the entire global renewable energy industry.
Undoubtedly, One Sun, One World, One Grid will add a new dimension to the renewable energy landscape by allowing the transmission of renewable energy across international borders. It has been envisioned at the highest level by the Prime Minister of India. It will help in minimising energy curtailment and balancing the international grid through renewable energy sources. We are at the very initial stages of this project. The idea of a grid that can supply power to all corners of the world through day and night is a fascinating one, which can be of great use to the world.
That said, this project is going to be extremely challenging to implement and we should be prepared to move forward accordingly once the consultants’ report is received. So far, we have taken utmost care in working out the mechanism to take the project forward. The present mechanism involves the Indian government and two multilateral organisations, the World Bank and the ISA. Working out this mechanism took some effort as there were a lot of finer details to be sorted out. This obviously creates a pool of expertise and experience that should ultimately help the project. Going forward, implementation mechanisms will have to be developed more carefully, with the involvement of multiple ministries and authorities within the country along with cooperation and careful coordination with other countries. The MNRE recognises the enormity of this task and we are prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
India possesses extensive experience in facilitating renewable power evacuation and reshaping the grid for future requirements. We are implementing the Green Energy Corridor project, and making focused efforts to strengthen institutions, protocols and resources. We are investing judiciously in grid infrastructure. This experience should greatly help us when we start implementing the One Sun, One World, One Grid project. We are committed to providing all possible support for the success of the project.
“One Sun, One World, One Grid will add a new dimension to the renewable energy landscape by allowing transmission of renewable energy across international borders.”
The way forward
The International Energy Agency’s projections suggest that renewable energy sources will meet roughly 80 per cent of the growth in global electricity demand over the next 10 years. Further, solar power will be at the centre of this energy transition. Projections also underline the importance of strengthening electricity grids to ensure the seamless integration of renewable energy.
As we move forward, some new challenges are likely to crop up along the way. A few of them are already on the horizon while we may not even know about others at the moment. An example of this is the issue of solar waste. With massive global as well as country level plans of deploying vast capacities of solar PV power plants, this is likely to become a big issue in the future. We already hear about the loss of land for grazing on account of solar power plants being set up on the land. These sorts of challenges will arise in the future and we need to be prepared to tackle them.
Overall, the bottom line is that in the near term, the energy transition is likely to continue and is only expected to gather momentum in the future. The rapid technological advancements and innovations will support this transition.