Views of Amitabh Kant

“Solar power will be a game changer for the country”

Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog

With the global movement to phase out emissions, it has become crucial to expand renewables development. When India set a target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, it was met with some scepticism. However, today, India is one of the global leaders in the renewable energy space, with 90 GW of installed capacity and major capacity additions in the pipeline. Going forward, it is important that India focuses on innovation in renewable energy technologies and on becoming a manufacturing hub for these technologies. In his address at the recently held 3rd Global RE-Invest conference, Amitabh Kant, CEO of policy think tank NITI Aayog, compared the country’s progress in the renewable energy space with that of other global leaders. He also highlighted how a focus on specific renewable energy technologies, research innovation and local manufacturing can help transform India’s renewable energy sector. Excerpts…

I  am not at all surprised by the progress highlighted in the “Climate Transparency Report 2020”. It was reported that India is the only country among the G20 nations that is on track to meet what it had promised in 2015 under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The top three emitters – China, the US and the European Union – have not reached this point yet. India’s track record of being the only country to be following the 2 °C compliance path was flagged in this report, prepared by a coalition of 14 global think tanks. This showed that the other 19 leading and emerging colonies were far from achieving their goals. India has formulated forward-looking policies for energy efficiency measures. We are among the top four G20 countries to have a robust energy efficiency policy framework, the others being Japan, Germany and Italy. The remaining G20 countries are yet to have extensive energy efficiency policies. India is also among the top countries implementing green finance principles through national green finance strategies and taxonomies.

How India fares compared to the rest of the world

Global reductions in carbon dioxide emissions have been estimated at 17 per cent over 2019. Apart from the US, the European Union and China, India too has contributed to a dramatic reduction in carbon dioxide over 2019. Emissions have fallen by 8 per cent in the power sector and by 16 per cent in the transportation sector.

In a study released by British Business Energy, the valuation of the world’s biggest earners from the energy industry was compiled by combining the values of energy companies in various countries, to find out which nation makes the most money in the energy space. According to the results furnished in the study, the US leads the rest of the world when it comes to making money from the energy industry. China was at the second position, followed by Russia and the Netherlands at third and fourth, with India taking the fifth position. In terms of the energy industry’s contribution to national GDP, the Netherlands took the first position, with its energy industry contributing to 46.76 per cent of its GDP, followed by Russia, Norway, Hong Kong and Thailand. India ranked sixth in the list, with its energy industry contributing to 13.25 per cent of the GDP. In the renewable energy attractiveness index, based on each country’s investment in the sector, partial usage or plans to use more renewable energy, India ranked third, followed by the US and China. India is one of the top five renewable energy countries in the world in terms of installed capacity. The country is all set to reach a total of 175 GW of renewable energy, including 100 GW of solar and 60 GW of wind, by 2022, and 450 GW by 2030.

India’s ranking has improved significantly due to the strong focus of the government on renewable energy policies as well as the appropriate execution of renewable energy projects. Many countries have announced net-zero emission policies, including China, Japan, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands. As far as the renewable energy potential is concerned, India possesses a huge potential of solar at 750 GW and wind at over 690 GW. The potential for small hydro has been assessed at 211 GW. If we account for all these and other biomass projects, the total potential of renewable energy, excluding large hydro, is 1,490 GW. If these resources are materialised, India would become the global leader in renewable energy.

Realising India’s renewable energy potential

On a cumulative scale, India’s renewable power capacity may increase to reach a range of 650-831 GW by 2035. This will amount to a significant penetration of renewable capacity in the electricity mix, close to 67-54 per cent by 2035. Our electricity mix will require robust grid balancing integration measures such as grid expansion and upgrades, system and operational flexibility and energy storage. Electricity generation from renewables will rise to about 41-49 per cent from the current level of 10 per cent. This penetration of renewables will lead to a fall in the share of coal-based power generation, from 72 per cent in 2020 to 32-42 per cent in 2035. The carbon intensity of power generation will fall correspondingly, given the increase in the share of renewables in energy consumption over the next 15 years.

Solar power will be a game changer for the country. The following three elements will shape India’s solar future: building India as the world’s cleantech factory for cutting-edge technologies,  energy storage technologies, and promotion of decentralised renewable energy systems. India’s solar PV capacity is expected to expand from about 38 GW at present to 100 GW by 2022. In many ways, the stakeholders that make the right set of decisions now will not only drive this revolution, but will also create value in terms of ensuring energy security and independence from supply chain disruptions. India recognises that clean technology manufacturing is a high-tech proposition. Various solar PV module schemes have been recently approved by the government, and we are also focusing on developing cutting-edge technologies on a global scale. In electric mobility, we expect that the future will be shared and connected. Therefore, battery storage is critical both for mobility and for electric vehicles. There is a need for the Indian solar industry to work with research labs in developing cutting-edge solar technologies such as wafer manufacturing and bifacial modules. These are indeed the technologies of the future.

The way forward

It is important to get into sunrise areas so that we become the champions, and the world will follow. The industry must collaborate with global innovators to take a generational leap in solar panel manufacturing. Further, more energy storage will be required. Thus, many round-the-clock tenders are being issued, and many of those projects will need battery storage for surplus energy. Chemical battery manufacturing in India is also under very advanced consideration, and many more policies will come.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has launched the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evem Utthan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) scheme for farmers, for the installation of solar pumps and grid-connected solar plants in the country. This is potentially the world’s largest productive energy scheme.

We have to work hard on balancing the mix of grid-connected and distributed power for solar energy. Distributed power may pose fewer challenges to grid stability. Renewable power integrated with storage can provide a better solution for the replacement of diesel-based generation, which medium- and small-scale industries are currently using as power backup. This would be a game changer, as a lot of issues of emissions from the industry can be tackled.

Society has advanced by ruminating on scientific breakthroughs and opening up a new world of possibilities. A lot of challenges will come while moving forward and advancing these new areas of growth. India will leapfrog in the area of cutting-edge technologies only if we are positive and look at advanced technologies. We will graduate from being a passive recipient to being an active driver in the global clean energy story, which, fortunately for us, is just beginning to take shape. India must become a global champion, and that can happen only if we are an active driver in the global cleantech story.

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