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From Paris to Glasgow, A Look at India’s Ambitious Push for Renewables Amid Worsening Climate Crisis

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1, 2021. (REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1, 2021. (REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool)

India under PM Narendra Modi has announced a bold target of meeting 50% of the country’s energy needs from renewables by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2070

As the global energy crisis puts the spotlight on countries’ heavy dependency on fossils, it has also pushed the need for speeding up the transition to clean energy. From leading the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in Paris in 2015 to setting an ambitious 500 GW target at Glasgow last year, India had already charted its long-route to realise its renewable energy potential.

India’s announcements were hailed as the “boldest new commitments” at COP26 Summit in Glasgow, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to take the country’s non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW and meet 50% of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030, while promising to achieve the net zero target by 2070.

“Modi was the man of the moment at COP26 with his commitments to scale up green energy and speed up emissions cuts. The six months since Glasgow have been a painful reminder of why it’s important for India to stick to these promises,” said Tom Evans, Policy Advisor on Climate Diplomacy at independent think-tank E3G, in context of its recent analysis of climate action of G20 nations.

“Coming forward with a clear and ambitious 2030 climate target is critical to making sure PM Modi delivers on his promises to accelerate the clean transition that would make him the star of the show at COP27 once again.”

Energy In The Market

According to experts, India’s push for renewables, especially solar, has infused energy in the green market, attracting investment and more opportunities for scaling up. The country’s initial target for solar capacity was 20GW by 2022, which was revised in 2015 by the then newly sworn in PM Modi to 100 GW under the same timeline. In 2021, just ahead of COP26, he further raised the target to 300 GW by 2030.

“From 20GW to now 55GW of solar capacity which we have achieved, India has come a long way. But the next target of taking it to 100 GW by year-end and 300 GW by 2030 is challenging and will require more planning as there is stiff competition for land, resources, storage and grid connectivity,” said Shirish Garud, Director, Renewable Energy Technologies at New Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

Elaborating further, he said, “The PM has always set bold and ambitious targets. It is important too, considering country’s size and its massive requirements because smaller targets will lead us nowhere. We will not be able to make any noticeable impact on fuel consumption and emission reduction.”

These targets also invite good investments from the international market which is looking to fund bigger projects at better interest rates, and signal a series of positive impact in terms of market confidence and employment opportunities.

“We are still better than several other countries, and in many cases, among the top 3-4 in terms of renewable installation on annual basis. It is true, that we cannot just switch away from coal anytime soon, since a lot of our big formal and informal economy depends on it, but the percentage of coal based power production is coming down, which is a positive sign,” he added.

Steering In The Right Direction

According to Ulka Kelkar, director climate programme at World Resources Institute (WRI), India has stepped to the fore with its short-term targets, unlike countries like Saudi Arabia which are yet to do so.

“The targets are ambitious, but achievable, and we are going in the right direction in terms of what we have committed. The next eight years are going to be very crucial, as to how we navigate challenges of finance, technology and most importantly storage which is daunting. We also need to relook at our rooftop solar installations which is falling short of target and explore other technologies,” she shared.

“Nonetheless, there has been far greater acknowledgment by government in last few years and we can see climate concerns being mainstreamed into development across states.”

The progress is also evident in how some states have responded to Modi’s clarion call for renewables, and amped up renewable projects. Gujarat and Rajasthan have contributed to 73% of the new renewable energy capacity set up in last six months, with Tamil Nadu, too, making heady progress.

Largest power utility National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has announced that it would diversify into renewables. Indian Railways, too, has set a target to become net zero emitter by 2030, and increase sourcing of renewables.

Target Check

As of March, India has installed 110 GW of renewable energy capacity against the target of 175 GW by December 2022 – a progress of 62% – meeting half its solar power target and two-thirds its wind power target.

But the progress is not uniform, suggests global energy think-tank Ember’s latest analysis highlighting that meeting the 2022 target will be challenging, until all states and union territories align with the national goal.

While Telangana, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Andaman & Nicobar have already surpassed their targets, other 27 state and union territories are yet to reach even half of their targets.

Out of the total 175 GW of renewable energy capacity to be achieved by 2022, 100 GW has to come from solar, 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from bio-power and 5 GW from small hydro-power. Sluggish growth in rooftop solar installation has impeded progress. The growth in wind energy capacity also stood at just 2%, from 39.6 GW in September 2021 to 40.4 GW in March 2022.

But it is one thing to install RE, and another to use it. Only 20-22% of the renewable energy generates goes into the power grid. As of 2021, Coal accounts for 74% of India’s electricity production. However, the good news is that coal lost 3% of its market share in India in the last five years, better than global average.

However, experts highlight that despite being a growing economy with its immediate needs, the government has continued to lay a significant thrust on renewables. Modi has also made sure to make India’s voice heard on global stage, especially for climate finance and justice, while extending support for climate action.

The government has charted out its path of transition to clean energy, and the sector has indeed gained momentum in the past decade, but there is a lot still to be done in less time.

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first published:May 27, 2022, 10:44 IST