India is shining in energy transition by treading a strong renewable energy path post-2015 Paris Agreement as it witnesses a step-up in investments in solar energy. Additionally, theres a significant slowdown in investments in thermal power plants.
Just a few days ago, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy announced that the total installed renewable energy capacity in India, excluding large hydropower, has crossed the milestone of 100 GW or 100,000 MW, about 26 per cent of the total capacity, a turning point in the history of renewables as India is celebrating 75th Independence Day.
Coincidently, this milestone came at a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was launched citing the need for urgent climate actions collectively to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees.
The global surface temperature is already about 1.1 degrees higher today than in the period 1850-1900.
Responding to the accelerated renewable proliferation of India, the only G20 nation that is on track to achieve Paris commitments, International Solar Alliance Director Ajay Mathur told IANS that this is a huge accomplishment.
"You see India has gone from 10 GW to 100 GW in just 15 years, from 2005 onwards. It highlights the success that is achieved with simultaneous, strengthening availability of both equity and debt, of human and organisational capacity in the solar, financial and policy sectors, and of continuously tweaking business models in light of advances in solar technologies, investments, and markets."
The IPCC report paints an even bleaker picture of a planet at risk of seeing dramatic changes in its fundamental parameters which have made human civilisations possible, if emissions from fossil fuels and other sources are not immediately contained.
On the other hand, it also makes clear that much of the future climate is still in the hands of today's generations, as "stringent emission reductions have immediate and sustained effects on human-caused climate change", the report states.
India has taken several initiatives, including setting up of the International Solar Alliance, for raising the domestic renewable energy target to 450 GW by 2030 and putting in place an ambitious National Hydrogen Mission and continuing efforts to decouple its emissions from economic growth.
Commending the accelerated renewable proliferation, Subrahmanyam Pulipaka, National Solar Energy Federation of India chief executive officer, tweeted: "While any century is remarkable and memorable, the trajectory in which India achieved this milestone is nothing short of an inspiration."
With the total installed renewable energy capacity reaching 100 GW, India now stands fourth in the world in terms of installed renewable capacity, fifth in solar and fourth in wind in terms of installed capacity.
While Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka have stated their intention not to build further coal and expand their generation through renewables, Climate Trends Director Aarti Khosla told IANS that given India's commitment to achieve 450GW by 2030 a rationalisation of coal use is now a must.
"This will not just reduce emissions it will also bring cost savings and clean air. At the time where we are shining across the world for stellar achievement in the renewable sector, we should focus on efficiency and reduction of emissions from coal, and make the change needed in the thermal sector, to bring overall gain to India's power sector," she said.
Vibhuti Garg, an Energy Economist at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), says India embarked on the energy transition journey a decade ago and has made tremendous progress.
"The feat of 100GW of renewable energy is a testimony to India's desire to adopt sustainable energy choices. However, the road ahead needs further acceleration of these targets to help India decarbonise its energy sector. This can be achieved through advancement in technology and finance across the value chain and also providing a stable and conducive policy environment."
India, which accounts for nine per cent of emerging market electricity demand and 20 per cent of expected demand growth, illustrates the speed and scale of change, says the latest report by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the financial think tank Carbon Tracker.
From less than 20GW of solar in 2010 it has grown to 96GW of solar, wind biomass and small hydro in May 2021. Including large hydropower and renewables now provide 142GW or 37 per cent of India's power capacity.
It says the demand for fossil fuel generation reached a plateau in 2018, and fell in 2019 and 2020. While fossil fuel demand might again increase in the near-term to meet latent electricity demand, India has demonstrated how a double leapfrog -- connecting nearly all households to electricity and its renewable energy rollout -- can be driven with policy priorities and market design.
Martin Scherfler of Auroville Consulting, says Tamil Nadu has a 7.38 GW of new coal power plants under construction, failed to meet its renewable energy purchase obligations for the last seven years and has prevented the progress of rooftop solar energy by introducing policy and regulatory hurdles.
"It's time for the state to resume its role as a global renewable energy leader and accelerate its transmission towards a carbon-free energy future."
According to Central Electricity Authority (CEA) projections, instead of 40 per cent, India will have 63 per cent of installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2029-30.
Now India has a target of installing 175 GW of wind and solar energy by 2022. If achieved, that would be close to 50 per cent of India's current total installed power capacity.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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