In 1947, when the tri-color was unfurled at Princess Park near India Gate and later at Red Fort, India hosted a population of 340 million and a total installed electricity generation capacity of 1,362 MW. The per capita consumption of power, too, was just 16.3 kWh.
Today, 75 years later, the country has an installed power capacity of 403,760 MW – an increase of about 300 times – and the population has expanded over fourfold. At 1208 kWh per capita consumption, India is also one of the largest producers and consumers of energy.
What is even more remarkable in this journey is that despite its dependency on energy imports, the nation has built a total non-fossil fuel capacity of about 41.5 per cent, equivalent to 1,67,694 MW, which underpins India’s commitment to decarbonization and energy transition. Nonetheless, we must do much more to achieve full energy independence. Choosing multiple pathways with a diverse approach will be critical to achieving the desired decarbonized future.
The bold ambitions for positive climate action announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UNFCCC’s COP26 Summit in Glasgow further underpin this urgency to not just decarbonize and cut emissions but also achieve full energy independence.
Raising The Bar In Renewable Energy Commitments
Recently, the Indian Cabinet approved the government’s climate action plan that not only aims to reduce carbon emission intensity by 45 per cent by the turn of the decade but also aspires for the country to become net zero by 2070.
With the goal of achieving half of the total electricity generation capacity from renewable sources by 2030, India has made substantial and realistic commitments toward building and sustaining a greener and more self-reliant energy ecosystem. The rigorous focus on tapping green hydrogen, as part of the National Hydrogen Mission, launched on Independence Day last year, is another pathway to a more sustainable energy future.
With ambitious investments in building solar and wind capacity, the country has even more potential to harness renewable sources with sunlight for over 300 days a year and a 7,500-km coastline that can accelerate the journey towards higher renewable energy production. Over the years, the nation has also benefited from local innovation – such as the development of special wind turbines suited for Indian wind conditions – and also cut down the cost of electricity generation. Alongside, the potential of hybrid power, such as wind plus solar or wind plus solar plus hydro, is also being explored and promoted. The pumped hydro storage technologies offer a cost-competitive renewable solution to serve India’s round-the-clock hybrid power demands.
Although challenges persist in curtailing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, which account for 50.7 per cent of the total installed capacity, the nation’s determination to phase down coal and embrace renewables is a critical driver in achieving clean energy targets as well as national energy self-sufficiency. Alongside, it is important to embrace air quality control systems such as flue gas desulphurization to scale back harmful emissions of sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide gases.
While India explores multiple pathways to achieve energy self-sufficiency, the role of natural gas power will continue to gain traction with advanced gas turbine technology supporting efficient energy production as well as accelerating the adoption of green hydrogen as a fuel.
The country is already promoting natural gas as a transition fuel in its journey to tap renewable power as the most important electricity source and has announced plans to increase the share of natural gas in its energy mix to 15 per cent by 2030.
A game changer for accelerating the journey to energy independence will be embracing multiple pathways, including wider adoption of smart grid technologies that balance the infirm renewable sources, leverage advanced data analytics to deliver higher operational efficiency, preventive care, increased fuel efficiency and lower downtime. India will certainly benefit in this area by learning from the lessons of the developed nations.
In many ways, energy security is the foundation of our ‘aatmanirbhar’ economic and social progress. And, as the nation steps into Amrit Kaal or the 25 years before a century of independence, the focus to decarbonize and transition to a more sustainable, reliable and affordable clean energy ecosystem will play a vital role in assuring the progress of the country and millions of its citizens.
(The author is President, GE South Asia. Views expressed are personal.)