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India can attract billions of dollars for solar, wind power: IEEFA

NTPC provides 25% of India's electricity supply and as such plays a critical role in the country's economic activity


India can attract billions of dollars for solar, wind power: IEEFA

As world markets transform at an unprecedented rate, is at the forefront of the shift towards profitable renewables given that the country's solar belt has the potential of 749 GW for power generation. As shown by a new IEEFA (Institute for Economics and Financial Analysis) analysis, accelerating this trend will allow avoid the costly mistakes made by slow-moving, late-learning European utilities, which have wasted billions on stranded and other assets.

In Europe, the rise of cheap renewable has pulled down wholesale electricity prices, causing financial pain for utilities that have delayed their transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Over the 2010-2016 period, European utilities have made $150 billion in asset write-downs. Investors from Goldman Sachs and UBS have been warning for years that has reached retirement age and that solar will become the "default technology of the future".

Similar trends have been apparent now for some time in China and India, where drives to install both thermal and renewable capacity concurrently have seen coal-fired power station utilisation rates drop to record lows of 47 per cent and 57 per cent respectively in 2016. This is despite electricity demand growing in these countries.

To illustrate further, the giant, 63 per cent state-owned power company, NTPC, provides 25 per cent of India's electricity supply and as such plays a critical role in the country's economic activity. Historically dependent on coal-fired electricity generation, India's power sector is moving in a starkly new direction. The Indian ministry is driving this trend, pushing the nation toward efficiency and renewable targets that are highly ambitious but in IEEFA's view, entirely achievable.

The government has set a target of 175 GW of renewable by 2022, including 100 GW of solar and 60 GW of wind. India's draft (NEP3) for the next two five-year periods, to 2027, unambiguously concludes that beyond the half-built plants already under construction, does not require any new coal-fired power stations. The 50 GW of power currently under construction nationally will operate at just 50-55 per cent capacity. Where these proposed new plants don't replace old coal, they will essentially become stranded assets operating largely as reserve capacity. has 15 GW of coal-fired capacity in development but plans to retire 11 GW of older capacity.

Despite its history as a fundamentally coal-based power generation utility, is now rapidly rolling out in-house, utility-scale solar projects and it is signing power purchase agreements for from private solar operators at record low, deflationary electricity tariffs absent subsidies. It is even beginning an entry into the electric vehicle sector by setting up charging stations. has committed to contributing 10 GW of solar capacity to the overall 100 GW government national target, making the company a cornerstone facilitator of India's national electricity transformation.

Loss-making European utilities are now looking to for new, safe investment opportunities given the impressive renewable drive. One of the biggest European power companies, the French utility Engie, which lost a total of some $40 billion during 2010-2016 on fossil fuels and nuclear holdings, intends to invest $1 billion in Indian solar over the next five years whilst also considering Engie is also reported to be one of the parties interested in the purchase of Singapore-based Equis Energy's Indian renewable portfolio.

Engie investors, like Indian officials, see that the transition from polluting to low carbon technology is where smart money is heading. Thus, Engie is undergoing a transformation plan, which includes a target that low carbon activities aiming to represent more than 90 per cent of earnings by 2018.

Engie and Italian utility ENEL are also amongst the international investors heading into South African renewables. The country has been running a renewable procurement programme that is internationally regarded as well-designed and successful. So far 2.2 GW of renewable capacity has been completed, attracting over $14 billion of investment.

But South African utility Eskom continues to fail to appreciate the future role of renewable as it continues with expensive giant new plants, Medupi and Kusile, even though electricity demand is falling. Eskom now has more than 5 GW of excess capacity even before most units of its new plants are operational.

South Africa, like India, is in transition. A key difference between the two nations is that electricity demand growth has stalled in South Africa which means any renewables growth immediately eats away at coal's generation profile as in Europe. In India, continued demand growth can help avoid the huge losses in its existing fleet if that demand growth is increasingly supplied by renewables going forward. If you look at the evidence, there is only one safe bet to make billions and avoid European-style losses.

First Published: Wed, October 04 2017. 16:31 IST