Global engagement on climate change and energy conservation has been creating quite a stir. At a stage when most of the countries are progressing towards lowering their carbon footprint and harnessing renewable resources of energy, India too stands tall with several environment saving projects to its credit.

It has decided to phase out its fossil fuel based energy generation and shift to green energy. India has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 33% – 35% by 2030 in comparison to 2005. To achieve this target, the Government of India announced an ambitious renewable energy target of 175GW by 2022 which includes 100GW from solar and 60GW from wind alone.

With an ever increasing population of 15 million each year, the growing need for energy has in turn proved instrumental in aligning these initiatives to satiate the growing demand. The policy makers have already set ambitious targets to aggressively utilize the vast pool of renewables that the country is rich in. But how smooth this transition of dependency from coal-dominant energy production to renewables will be a test of time.

For a country that has three times the population of China and aims for almost a nine-fold increase in its reliance on sustainable energy by 2022, it finds hope in utilizing its abundant renewables.

Understanding the dynamics

India had been a power deficit nation with a huge demand-supply gap. This was largely due to its overdependence on thermal power and other non-renewable sources of energy. Fluctuations in production of coal and political factors caused this gap to remain unbridged.

With international uproar on the growing effects of global warming and climate change it was necessitated that alternate sources to fossil fuels be explored.

The policy makers in India realized that renewables offered a viable solution for the country to meet its high energy demand in future. This meant exploring the nation’s rich hydro power, wind and solar energy. Endowed with a long coastline presented an ideal ground for channelizing wind power. In addition, a close proximity to the equator meant the potential for solar power also stood very high. So, India’s landscape and climate proved advantageous for the mission.

Overcoming coal dominance

Despite an increase in the share of renewables, particular solar and wind, coal still accounts for nearly 60 percent of energy mix consumption. For India to achieve the task of completely relying on sustainable energy, it will have to

  • Reduce its dependence on coal
  • Aggressively promote the use of renewable sources of energy like the solar, wind and water

Significant government investments will help improve the situation by promoting better understanding of the profitability of such renewable projects.

How India plays a key role

India is an emerging market among other developing nations. It has earned its place as a major economy over the years with restructuring its industrial map. The steps it takes to reduce its carbon footprint will be keenly observed by rest of the world. India is already a part of many international climate pacts like the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol.

As India’s energy consumption is one-third of the total world average, meeting its climate change commitment through alternate sources of energy will not only add to its pride but also set a global example of a greener country. Not to forget, cutting out emissions will improve the quality of air and further generate employment opportunities.

The government has actively been taking up the cause with significant investments and several solar projects in the pipeline. It approved massive 5000 megawatt solar farm under its climate Action Program. Lot of land in Gujarat and Rajasthan have been designated for wind and solar projects.

In 2011 the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi tabled a Canal-top Solar panel idea. Under this plan, solar panels were installed over a 750 meters of irrigation canal in Mehsana, Gujarat. The aim was to utilize the area above the canals saving the government the cost, the time and inconvenience associated with land acquisition.

Gujarat alone has a canal network of 80,000 km. Using even 30% of this network for canal-top solar projects, according to state owned Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited (GSECL) estimates, 18,000 MW of power could be produced in Gujarat alone – almost equal to the current coal-based installed capacity of Delhi, Rajasthan and Telangana. Going by this rate, nearly one fifth of the country’s solar power targets can be met by 2022.

Why using renewables stands important for India

Saddled with a burgeoning population and pressure to reduce its carbon footprint and also meet the growing energy demand, it remains vital that India turns towards its abundantly available alternate sources of energy.

Reports suggest, by 2022, solar energy could achieve grid-parity in India, meaning it would cost the same as other sources of electricity. Moreover solar power plants can be built faster than either coal, gas or nuclear power plants. They are relatively efficient, have longer life and save water.

India has already introduced battery vehicles on the road and is now racing to switch to all-electric cars by 2030. Despite a myriad of challenges, electric vehicles are steadily gaining traction, thanks to government initiatives and entry of international players like Honda, Suzuki, Hyundai. TATA Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra are the two homegrown automobile giants that are spearheading the electric vehicle revolution in India after having won the global tender of supplying 10, 000 electric cars to government-run Energy Efficient Services Limited (EESL).

When it comes to the wind energy, India has the fourth largest installed wind power capacity in the world after U.S. and Denmark and contributes to nearly 2.5 % of total electricity production.

Challenges

An ever increasing population naturally adds to the pressure of balancing electrification with growth in renewables. The vicious circle must be broken with more awareness and government led policies backing sustainability projects.

India undoubtedly has a vast untapped source of solar power. The critical issue around solar installations in India is space and investment.  This is where India’s network of irrigation canals could be helpful where canal top solar installations would play a key role. Currently, the government only backs the projects headed by public sector organizations. If private companies are roped in the project, it would expand the outcome by multifold.

Flexible financing options for individuals for solar installations would also support faster adoption of clean energy.

India cannot alone rely on solar energy but develop the entire valuable ecosystem to achieve its aim of sustainable growth in the long run.