Views of HIMURJA’s Rupali Thakur: “We need to be very serious about climate goals”

“We need to be very serious about climate goals”

Rupali Thakur, Chief Executive Officer, Himachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency

The small, hilly state of Himachal Pradesh relies on hydropower to meet most of its power requirements. However, hydropower has a number of constraints, such as ecological and environmental concerns, and dependence on erratic rainfall. Thus, the state has been making significant efforts to expand its base of clean energy projects, incorporating solar photovoltaics and biomass power. Moreover, it is now focusing on streamlining and refining its various policies and procedures to minimise bottlenecks in clean energy development in the state. At a recent industry event, (HIMURJA), discussed the key initiatives of the state agency in promoting renewable power, and the outlook for clean energy uptake in the state. Edited excerpts…

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all these goals are achieved, via certain targets. SDG 7 concerns affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The Government of India has already adopted this framework and NITI Aayog is in charge of ensuring that these parameters are met. The state of Himachal Pradesh has been successful in spearheading this initiative at the state lev­el. In fact, Himachal Pradesh, along with Kerala, ranked first in the Sustainable De­ve­­lopment Goals Index in 2018-19, and came second in 2019-20.

The Government of India adopted 309 indicators as part of its SDG plans, of which 62 were priority indicators at the national level. HIMURJA has adopted 138 indicators, of which 12 have already been achieved. The organisation is expecting to achieve 38 in­dicators by 2022 and 87 by 2030. With respect to SDG 7, which is our goal as part of the state nodal agency for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), we are trying to implement all state government schemes as well as all the mandates given to us by the MNRE.

Himachal Pradesh is a power-surplus state and it has rich hydro resources, currently pegged at around 23,000 MW. HIMURJA exclusively deals with renewables and our primary goal is to take all necessary steps to inc­re­a­se the use of renewable energy in the power sector. The orga­nisation is cu­rr­ently exploring the set­ting up of battery energy storage systems in village areas in order to provide quality and reliable power to everybody in every village. In 2016, the state had roughly 25 villages for which it was unable to maintain a consistent power connection throughout the year. HIMURJA is examining these aspects and attempting to provide solutions so that even the most dis­advantaged sections of society can be­ne­fit from minor remedies. More­over, we are keeping track of the availability of coo­king fuel in rural areas, and gas connections and the Ujwala scheme have yielded positive outcomes in the state. Currently, biomass use for cooking stands at 57.5 per cent in the state, and we are aiming for 40 per cent by 2022 and about 30 per cent by 2030.

The state’s primary focus has historically been on hydroelectricity owing to its massive potential, and hydropower is generally considered to be part of renewable energy. However, there is still much to be done to utilise the state’s ample solar potential. Tra­ditionally, solar power uptake has been limited to modest solutions such as off-grid and rooftop solar plants. However, with the national thrust on bigger projects, HIMURJA is now considering establishing large solar parks in the state.

To this end, we are exploring the potential of setting up solar projects in cold deserts in the upper reaches of the mountains, which get high solar radiation, and have minimal population and little forest cover. We are evaluating our transmission and evacuation infrastructure and exploring avenues for securing land to build suitable transmission infrastructure. We are also trying to figure out a way to raise funds for green energy corridors in the state.

We are trying to fill the current gaps in the state’s energy ecosystem. Himachal Pradesh has a difficult terrain and is prone to issues such as landslides. Fur­ther, there is the risk of climate change and its disastrous impact on our many glaciers. Therefore, we are seeking ex­pert advice for many of these bottlenecks and attempting to iron out the kinks. Finally, we need to be very serious about cli­mate goals, as the latest United Na­tions report on climate change has not depicted a positive picture. There is a pressing need to advance this agenda in every way possible.