Views of Raj Kumar Singh: Our energy will be green as far as possible

India is making rapid progress towards achieving its target of 500 GW of non-fossil-fuel-based power by 2030. This transition to green power is being propelled by proactive government policies and timely regulatory interventions. Critical areas such as energy storage, green hydrogen and domestic manufacturing are receiving significant attention and attracting investments. Moreover, there is a strong emphasis on promoting renewable energy development not just at the utility level but also at the consumer level. Union Minister for Power, New and Renewable Energy, Raj Kumar Singh talked about the growth trajectory and future prospects for the country’s renewable energy sector at various industry events. Excerpts…

India is the fastest growing economy in the world, and this trajectory is expected to continue over the coming three to four decades. By 2026, India is anticipated to become the third largest economy in the world. Hence, we have a huge responsibility on our shoulders to power the growth of our country.

Recent developments show that our country’s power sector is booming, with a large part of this growth powered by the renewable energy sector since 2014. Solar power has played a leading role in this growth, while segments such as wind power and green hydrogen are expected to emerge as leaders in the coming years. Our success in recent years can be attributed to the robust connectivity of power networks that we have established across villages, rural regi­ons, hamlets, and sub-urban cities. The availability of power in rural areas has increased from an average of 12 hours to 22.5 hours per day since 2014. India has successfully transitioned from a power-deficit to a power-surplus nation. We have laid 174,000 ckt. km of transmission lines connecting our entire country into one grid, running on one frequency. This grid is capable of transferring 112,000 MW of power from one part of the country to another, making it the largest single integrated grid in the world.

We have powered our country not only by providing electricity, but also by being a leader in in­vestments. An investment of Rs 2.5 trillion has been made in strengthening distribution syste­ms. For instance, over this period, more than 2,900 substations have been established, while over 3,900 existing substations have been up­graded to enable a faster transition towards greening the grid.

India has emerged as a global leader in the renewable energy sector in recent times. Since the year 2014, 178 GW of power capacity has been added to the grid, of which a significant proportion has been contributed by the renewable energy sector. Moreover, the declaration of the trajectory for short-term and long-term renewable energy capacity addition by the government is a significant step towards achieving the goal of 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030 and faster energy transition. India has emerged as a world leader in energy transition and this is evident in the growth that we have achieved in the area of renewable energy. We are committed to achieve 500 GW of target by 2030 and the bidding trajectory will provide further stimulus towards this goal. The structured bidding trajectory will provide sufficient time to clean energy developers to plan their finances, develop their business plans and manage the supply chain more efficiently. This is a golden opportunity for the industry to invest in this sector.

We have certainly achieved many feats to be proud of; however, the challenge has just begun. As the country is rapidly urbanising, the demand for power is also growing in tandem. While our economy is growing at 7 per cent, our power demand is growing at 10 per cent. This year’s growth is 10 per cent more than last year’s. The present total consumption is 1,490 billion units (BUs), which is expected to reach 3,000 BUs by 2030. Our present power generation capacity is 410 GW, and we aim to achieve 800 GW by 2030. Doubling the present capacity in a span of less than seven years is indeed a challenge. More­over, 500 GW out of the targeted 800 GW capacity will come from non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources and we aim to double it again by 2050. Thus, the scale of tra­nsmission lines, transformers and meters will need to double by 2030. There is a huge demand in the industry and to meet this demand, we also need to double our manufacturing capacities.

To achieve the doubling of India’s current stock by 2030, we have introduced several policies and schemes. Today, 42 per cent of our capacity comes from non-fossil fuels and the growth rate continues to remain higher not only in terms of capacity but also energy efficiency. Our aim was to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensity by 33 per cent by 2030, and we have already achieved 30 per cent. Our per capita emissions are also roughly one-third of the global average. This indicates that the country is moving on the right track towards effectively achieving its climate targets.

Another key challenge is energy storage. Storage is essential for the large-scale de­ployment of renewable energy and ro­u­nd-the-clock supply of power. How­ever, the cost of storage is very high and not viable without subsidies or viability gap funding. We have come out with a PLI scheme for storage manufacturing, but it needs to be restructured to incorporate grid-scale storage. Therefore, a separate PLI sche­me for grid-scale storage will be introduced in the near future. This will be done in two tranches, one for lithium-ion and one for sodium-ion, catering to the diver­se supply chains in the storage segment. We are working hard to make storage viable. In this regard, we plan to come up with pilot projects using green ammonia and pumped hydro for storage, ensuring that our energy is as green as far as possible.

Among the several challenges that lie ahead of us, the most crucial one is for us to ensure that we provide the equipment and power required to meet the growing energy demand of individual consumers and industries. The government’s commitment to address this challenge will reflect in the fact that we will be the biggest investors in the growth story. It is important to recognise the immense potential for growth, which will continue to generate massive investment opportunities.

For instance, in the green hydrogen segment alone we will require roughly 100 GW of electrolyser and manufacturing ca­pacity. A PLI scheme for electrolyser manufacturing is proposed to support In­dia’s ambition to become a global green hydrogen hub. To enable this transition, huge quantities of solar cells will also be needed. As a result, we came up with PLIs for solar cells and modules, which re­sulted in the initiation of 8,700 MW of manufacturing capacity, ranging from polysilicon to modules. Another PLI is expected to drive a manufacturing capacity of 37 GW of polysilicon and 65 GW of cells and modules.

Our vision is that India should develop as the fastest growing renewable energy nation in the world. We have already emerged as the largest and most attractive destination for clean energy investments across the gl­o­be. We are the only major economy wh­­o­se energy transition actions are in consonance with the target to limit the global temperature rise to 2 °C. Moreover, our vision involves integrating all stakeholders into a single team, promoting op­en discussions and creating a level playing field for problem-solving.

While we are focused on our climate targets and are conscious about our actions towards greening the power grid, we will also ensure that the energy availability is not compromised. Climate action is im­portant but ensuring access to energy for all is necessary.

Energy is crucial for the growth of individuals, businesses and the overall economy. Access to regular supply of energy will also ensure an improved standard of living for our people and this cannot be compromised. Thus, we cannot disregard the importance of fossil fuels for the country over the coming years. Yet, our focus will remain on increasing the share of renewable energy in our overall energy portfolio. Today, 48 GW of thermal power is under construction along with 14 GW of hydropower, and another 18 GW will go into construction next year. Fur­th­er­more, 85 GW of renewables and 8 GW of nuclear capacity is under construction. Studies by a committee set up to assess the impact of hydropower have found the impact of such projects socio-economically beneficial in their vicinity.

Our role is to ensure that we leave behind a better earth for future generations. We surely have a huge task ahead of us. Go­ing forward, the sector will witness urgen­cy, quality, massive investments and ro­bu­st manufacturing.