Carbon Neutral Energy: A perspective on India’s approach

A perspective on India’s approach

By Mukesh Singh Parihar, Team Lead and Assistant General Manager, Hydrogen Sector, Tata Consulting Engineers Ltd

The rise in global temperatures is not a new phenomenon. It has been there for ages, although often ignored. How­ever, it has become significant in the in­dustrial era. As per the United States Na­­­ti­onal Oceanic and Atmospheric Admi­nistration’s 2021 Annual Climate Report, earth’s surface temperature has increas­ed by 1.1 °Celsius roughly compared to the pre-industrial era (1880-1900), with an average increase of 0.08 °Celsius per decade since 1880. The alarming part is that this average increase rate has doubled (0.18 °Celsius) since 1981. With the increase in global temperature, heat waves are going to be more frequent and severe. An increase of 1.5 °Celsius in the global surface temperature will cause an extreme heat event to occur four times in a decade, and 5.6 times with an increase of 2 °Celsius. An intensely warm atmosphere can cause a high degree of evaporation, leading to severe droughts. At the same time, intense rainfall is expected because of the higher amount of moisture in the atmosphere, increasing the flood risk. The sea level is expected to rise significantly by the end of the 21st century.

As an outcome of the Paris agreement signed at COP21 in 2015, 196 countries came together to agree upon a treaty on climate change, with the aim of limiting global warming to well below 2 °Celsius – preferably 1.5 °Celsius. During COP26, held in 2021 and attended by 200 countries, 153 countries submitted their Natio­nally Determined Contributions, featuring new emission targets for 2030. Post COP26, 90 per cent of the world’s GDP has been committed towards net zero emi­ssions. These countries have committed to undertaking a sharp shift to carbon-free alternatives in the power and transportation sectors, which are the major con­tributors to greenhouse gas emissions and thus global warming, as well as to me­thane emissions and deforestation. The use of green power alternatives, pri­ma­rily so­lar, wind and nuclear, as well as electric and hydrogen-driven vehicles, has been determined as the path to the future.

India’s approach

India is on the path to becoming carbon neutral by 2070 and has adopted an ambitious target of establishing 500 GW of renewable power capacity by 2030. However, experts believe that India will be able to install 530 GW of renewable power by 2030, which will account for approximately 67 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption. At present, about 58 per cent of India’s energy demand is met through fossil fuels, primarily coal. About 70 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector can be attri­buted to coal, which accounts for 53 per cent of the energy supply. The power sector is the largest contributor to carbon di­oxi­de emissions, followed by the metal and construction industry, and then transportation, with food and dairy, etc., accounting for small shares.

Thus, a major thrust is being given to solar, onshore and offshore wind, and nuclear power for meeting power demand requirements; hydrogen for power and transpor­tation needs; and electric vehicles as well as battery energy storage system re­se­ar­ch. India aimed to install 175 GW of re­ne­wable energy by 2022, with a mix of 100 GW, 60 GW, 10 GW and 5 GW from solar, wind, biopower and small hydro projects respectively. As of November 2022, India has been able to set up 173 GW of non-fossil energy, accounting for 42 per cent of total energy consumption.

The Government of India launched a detailed plan for the evacuation of 500 GW of non-fossil-based power, in Decem­ber 2022. The evacuation will be enabled by setting up 51,000 circuit km of transmission lines. An estimated investment of Rs 2.44 trillion is expected for the setting up of transmission lines and substations with 0.433 million MVA of capacity. In addition, the plan involves setting up 51.5 GW of battery storage to support round-the-clock power supply. Further, most experts believe that nuclear will serve as the base load for renewable energy, and India is on a mission to facilitate this ne­ver-ending power source. It has been an active participant in the Inter­na­tional Thermonuclear Experimental Re­actor, the world’s first nuclear fusion rese­arch programme, being one of the seven countries funding it. Power giants such as NTPC Limited have undertaken initiatives to explore the efficiency and effectiveness of small modular reactors.

Hurdles India needs to overcome

Despite its geographical advantage, India needs to overcome a number of hurdles to establish the supremacy of renewables. The extensive clearance requirements from government authorities and long ap­proval cycles, infrastructure development for power evacuation, long distance power distribution, and unclear roles among states are some of the major roadblocks that need to be addressed in addition to the required financial investments. Despite 7,600 km of coastline with a potential for 140 GW of wind energy, India is lagging in offshore wind power even after five years of the government’s call to companies to set up offshore wind capacity. Apart from the massive infusion of $10.1 trillion to reach the target of net zero by 2070; fast-track approval of projects, building up of indigenous competency, focus on research and development (particularly in the areas of battery storage and hydrogen electrolysers), development of port infrastructure, financial aid for the installation of offshore wind turbines, and development of the transmission and distribution networks will all play key roles. After all, green power is the only alternative for a green future, and with aggressive government policies, India is buckling up to be future-ready.