Clean energy gains ground in India, but coal still rules

Clean energy gains ground in India, but coal still rules

For six years, Pravinbhai Parmar’s farm in the western Indian state of Gujarat has been lined with rice, wheat and solar panels.

The 36-year-old is one of a handful of farmers in his home village in Edinburgh who are using solar power to irrigate crops.

“I was spending almost 50,000 rupees ($615) every year to water my crops,” said Parmar. “With sunshine I don’t wear anything.”

Parmar also sells the excess electricity to his state’s grid, earning an average of 4,000 rupees ($50) per month.

“It’s a win-win in every way,” he said.

Thousands of farmers have been encouraged to adopt solar power for irrigation in the agriculturally rich state as India aims to reach ‘net zero’ by 2070. But energy-driven livelihoods are big outliers net in the country which is the third largest exporter. planetary gas in the world, and last year announced the largest ever auction for coal mines.

Coal’s share in electricity production for Gujarat has fallen from 85% to 56% in the past six years, according to an analysis by London-based energy think tank Ember. The share of renewable energy for the state increased from 9% to 28% in the same period.

But Gujarat is only one of four of India’s 28 states to have met their renewable energy targets for 2022. Most states have installed less than 50% of their target and some states like West Europe have installed only 10% of their target.

Fossil fuels across the country generate more than 70% of India’s electricity and have been doing so for decades. Coal is the largest share of dirty fuels. Renewable energy currently provides about 10% of India’s electricity needs.

From 2001 to 2021, India installed 168 gigawatts of coal-fired generation, nearly double what it added in solar and wind power combined, according to an analysis of Ember data. India’s federal power ministry estimates that its electricity demand will grow by up to 6% every year for the next ten years.

“Reducing the share of coal in the electricity generation mix is ​​a big challenge because you’re dealing with a sector that’s growing fast,” said Thomas Spencer, an energy analyst at the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Spencer said India’s economy is developing rapidly and growing per capita electricity consumption is creating rising demand.

“Historically, countries that have achieved substantial and rapid transitions away from coal-fired power have tended to have slow or stagnant or even slightly declining electricity demand growth,” he said.

India is among the top seven countries in the world for potential renewable power in a report by the Global Energy Monitor. The proposed build-out of 76 gigawatts of solar and wind power by 2025 will avoid the use of nearly 78 million tons of coal per year and could result in savings of up to 1.6 trillion rupees ($19.5 billion) per year .

India missed its target of installing 175 gigawatts of renewable energy on its overall power production by 2022. Experts say India needs to produce clean energy at a much higher rate to meet its 2030 renewable energy target achieving a total of 450 gigawatts installed. he is doing now.

The Indian government has repeatedly defended its coal use and energy transition strategy, saying the fuel is essential to the nation’s energy security. Coal India Limited, a government-owned company, is the world’s largest state-owned coal producer. It is responsible for about 82% of the total coal produced in India.

In November last year, the Indian government announced its largest ever auction for coal mines, inviting bids for 141 mines spread across 12 states in the country. The government says the additional mines will add to its target of producing 1 billion tonnes of coal by April 2024.

Analysts say multiple obstacles to acquiring land for clean energy projects are partly due to resistance from local communities. Long-term contracts with coal plants also make it easier for state electricity companies to buy coal power rather than clean power.

As of December 2022, power generators owed $3.32 billion in overdue payments to Indian state-owned electricity distribution companies. Their poor financial health has hampered their ability to invest in clean energy projects, analysts say.

Building energy storage, enacting more progressive policies – such as the $2.6 billion government scheme encouraging components needed to produce solar energy – and ensuring these policies are being implemented to move towards energy in -speed up renewal, analysts say.

“New laws like the energy conservation bill as well as updated mandates issued by the federal government give electricity companies hope to buy renewable energy,” said Madhura Joshi, energy analyst at climate think tank E3G. “At the end of the day what is needed is to speed up the installation of renewables and the associated infrastructure.”

She added: “It’s great that India has a net zero goal of 2070, but changes need to be made now to achieve this. We need to build out our renewable capacity at breakneck speed.”

Experts say electricity distribution companies must allow more rooftop solar installations even if they result in short-term economic losses. Investment in modernizing and building new wind energy projects will also accelerate the transition, analysts said.

“Ultimately in India, renewable energy is a very cost-effective technology. The perception that coal is cheap is changing,” said Spencer.

The price of renewable energy has fallen. The cost of solar power has fallen roughly sixfold from 12 rupees (14 cents) per kilowatt-hour in 2011 to 2.5 rupees (0.03 cents) per kilowatt-hour in recent years.

Aditya Lolla, energy policy analyst at Ember, is optimistic for India’s clean energy future, saying that renewable energy is “at the beginning” of the horizon. He believes that battery storage for renewable energy to provide uninterrupted electricity and clean fuels – such as green hydrogen – will grow rapidly.

“Storage technology for clean energy as well as green hydrogen is expected to be affordable in the coming years,” said Lolla. “India is betting big on that.”


Wildeman reported from Hartford, Connecticut.


Follow Sibi Arasu on Twitter at @sibi123


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