Can India Achieve 100% Renewable Energy?
By 2050, India could rely entirely on renewable energy to create a sustainable energy future.
In the coming years, India will face seemingly insurmountable challenges to its economy, environment and energy security. To overcome these challenges India needs to shift to non-polluting sources of energy. As Jeremy Rifkin, an economist and activist, said in New Delhi in January 2012, “India is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy sources and, if properly utilized, India can realize its place in the world as a great power,” and adding “but political will is required for the eventual shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.” The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also has recommended that the world needs a major shift in investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
India has tremendous energy needs and it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet those needs through traditional means of power generation. Over 40% of rural Indian households don’t have electricity. While India is developing domestic energy sources to satisfy the growing demand, it is also anxious about having to import increasing amounts of fossil fuels that exacerbate the trade deficit and can be harmful to the environment. Coal imports hit a record high during the last fiscal year and will likely rise further over the next five years since India aims to expand its power-generation capacity by 44%.
The country’s inability to generate clean, affordable power is also a major constraint to achieving energy security. The present centralized model of power generation, transmission and distribution is growing more and more costly to maintain and, at the same time, restricts the flexibility required to meet growing energy demands. India needs to encourage a decentralized business model in order to more readily take advantage of abundantly available renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, biogas, geothermal and hydrogen energy, and fuel cells. India is blessed with an abundance of these resources, yet it spends millions of rupees to import oil, coal, and natural gas resulting in enormous amounts of renewable energy being unused/wasted. To that end, renewable resources are the most attractive investment because they will also provide long-term economic growth for India.
To secure its energy future, India urgently needs to design/implement innovative policies and mechanisms that promote increased use of abundant, sustainable, renewable resources. All of India’s future energy demand could be met by utility-scale and rooftop PV, concentrated solar power, onshore and offshore wind, geothermal, and conventional hydropower. This would require building many more solar power systems and wind farms, hybrid solar-natural gas plants, solar thermal storage and advanced battery-based grid energy storage systems. Investment in these technologies would create millions of new jobs and an economic stimulus of at least US $1 trillion, and perhaps much more if all indirect (ripple) effects are included. Other major changes involve use of electric vehicles and the development of enhanced Smart Grids. Making the transition to 100% renewable energy is both possible and affordable, but requires political support.
What needs to be done?
Instead of an overarching energy strategy India has a number of disparate policies. To date, India has developed a cluster of energy business models and policies that have obstructed adoption of renewable energy expansion plans. This present approach threatens India’s economic competitiveness, national security and the environment. India must fundamentally transform the manner in which it produces, distributes and consumes energy to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, create jobs, enhance global competitiveness and decrease carbon emissions.
The Government of India has taken several measurable steps toward improving infrastructure and power reliability (such as development of renewable energy from solar and wind), clearly more needs to be done, and fast. One step in the right direction was the establishment of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) in late 2009. However, the present JNNSM target of producing 10% of the country’s energy from solar − 20GW by 2022 − is totally inadequate. JNNSM needs to take bolder steps, with the help of central and state Governments, in order to play a greater role in realizing India’s solar energy potential. One such step would be establishment of a nationwide solar initiative to facilitate deployment of 100 million solar roofs and utility-scale generation installations within the next 20 years. In achieving such a goal, India could become a major player and international leader in solar energy for years to come.
In addition, developing off-grid powered micro-grids have the potential to change the way communities generate and use energy, and can reduce costs, increase reliability and improve environmental performance. Micro-grids can be used to take substantial electrical load off the existing power grid and so reduce the need for building new or expanding existing transmission and distribution systems.