India Emerging as a Global Renewable Hotspot

A large part of the world is witnessing a deep slump in energy demand due to the global coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent slowdown in economic and industrial activity. India, on the other hand, has been making considerable advances in connecting more people to the grid, than ever before. Historically, a large part of India’s rural population has had no or very limited access to electricity, but for the last year and a half, it has been a top priority for the government to build an electrified and connected India, with no citizen being deprived of electricity. In a country with a population of approximately 135 crores (1.3 billion), it is not an easy feat to accomplish. Especially when one takes into consideration India’s commitment to combat climate change. It is interesting to note that despite all odds, India is the only G20 nation on track to meet its commitments made in the 2015 Paris climate accord. India is the only country among the top three emitters – China, the US, and the European Union – which is a 2°C compatible country. In this context, to successfully supply energy to the entire Indian population, the country has plans to significantly boost its renewable energy capacity and has set ambitious renewable energy targets. In the 2015 Paris climate accord, India had pledged to generate 350 Gigawatts (GW) of energy from renewable sources by the year 2030. More recently, at the Climate Week in New York in 2019, India committed to generating up to 450 GW of renewable energy in the next ten years, by 2040.

There is no doubt these targets seem ambitious, but Shri Sanjiv Nandan Sahai, Secretary, Ministry of Power, Government of India, in a recent interview stated India is well on its way on the renewable route and is confident in achieving the committed renewable energy targets. According to data provided by the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE), India in November 2020 added 763.47 Megawatts (MW) of renewable energy capacity, bringing the total installed renewable energy capacity of the country to 90.39 GW, primarily sourced from wind (38.43 GW) and solar (36.91 GW), followed by biopower (10.31 GW) and hydropower (4.74 GW). The reason for wind energy being ahead in the renewable space is because India has been harnessing and growing it for the last twenty years, while solar energy has been around for only half that time.

Despite the assurances and optimism of meeting its renewable energy targets by 2030, India still has a long road ahead. In order to achieve the deficit of 260 GW renewable energy capacity by the said deadline, India would need to install 25-35 GW of renewable energy capacity every year, which is more than double the current rate. To achieve this, a concerted policy effort is required along the following lines: 1) creating demand for renewable energy; 2) ensuring revenues for renewable energy projects; 3) reducing risk for construction, development, and operation of the said projects; and 4) amalgamation of intermittent and variable renewable energy supply. According to the Minister of State, MNRE, Shri Raj Kumar Singh, India will come out with innovative bids in 2021 to attract the ₹1.74 lakh crore (approx. $23 billion) investments needed to achieve the 175 GW renewable energy target by 2022.

Going forward, post the coronavirus pandemic and the global disruption across industries, for any hope of avoiding a devastating climate change consequence, it is crucial for the growing middle-class population around the world to ditch the heavily polluting mistakes of the first-world countries’ post-industrial trajectory. This means all eyeballs are going to be on the upcoming twin giants – India and China, to carry the collective burden of the world in meeting their own growing energy needs, connecting their combined population of about 3 billion people to the grid, with clean and renewable energy.

Globally, there is an emerging symbiosis between clean, renewable energy, and energy security. Energy security, as a concept, has evolved from being dependent on fossil fuel technologies. Now, renewable energy technologies fulfill most of the objectives that modern energy security enhancement initiatives aim to achieve. India realizes this and has shown great initiative in growing its own renewable energy capacity for future energy security and a cleaner, less-polluted environment. And it’s not just talk. The country has begun working towards building the world’s single-largest renewable energy project, a 30 GW renewable energy farm, spread across 72,600 hectares. Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on December 15, 2020, laid the foundation stone for the solar and wind park in Kutch, Gujarat.

The future for India indeed looks promising and green. These are interesting times, and the coming decade is going to be pivotal for renewable energy. Although in the medium-term traditional energy generators are going to remain the primary source, energy transition will create unending opportunities, unlocking multi-billion-dollar industries and sub-industries in the renewable space. This, together with the increasing awareness about climate change, is going to be the driving force that makes energy companies to develop and adopt renewable technologies and lead the way. Solar and wind are going to be the center of India’s energy system transition and transformation, combating greenhouse gas emissions, lowering air pollution, and expanding energy access.