As the world is hoping to alleviate the rapidly growing threat of climate change, India is majorly stepping up and developing into a global clean-energy powerhouse. It is one of only a few countries with policies that are compatible with keeping global warming below the two-degree Celsius target recommended by scientists, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent research organization.
The country is also now producing the world’s cheapest solar power, based on data from the International Renewable Energy Agency or IRENA. And that’s not all. Wind power is also proving an important resource and, as of the end of 2019, India’s installed wind capacity surpassed the 37 gigawatts.
In total, the country’s renewable energy capacity hit 86 GW last year, with wind power taking the biggest share.
An early adopter of change
Perhaps the first symbol of India’s more significant role in this sphere was the launch of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) — thanks to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in collaboration with Emmanuel Macron, French President.
Initiated by India, the ISA is an alliance of 121 countries, “with the aim of making an unprecedented effort to promote solar energy.” The goal of the ISA is to develop standards and deploy solar energy projects in countries that are rich in solar resources and while climate risks are high.
Long before COP 21, however, India was one of the first nations to set up a Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources in 1992 (renamed the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in 2006), which serves as a testimonial to India’s mission to produce clean energy long before global discussions on climate change and sustainability.
Although it wasn’t until 2014 (when the National Democratic Alliance led by Modi, came into government) that renewables truly came into play in India. The administration envisioned renewable energy as an affordable, sustainable alternative to polluting fossil fuels. As a result, several policy reforms were created that provided a favorable business environment for private players to enter this domain, making it more attractive to serious investors.
At this time independent power producers (IPP), or non-utility organizations, began forming with several innovative entrepreneurs venturing into the sector. This increased the country’s competitive interest, potential, and support in clean energy sources, such as wind and solar. The renewables’ story in India is a remarkable example of what’s possible when government policies and business commitment match in vision and will.
As a developing country, India had several challenges that included meeting the country’s growing demand for energy based on its population size and given its economy. Energy self-sufficiency and universal energy passage were top national priorities. This meant the country had to work past its dependence on imports for its energy obligations.
At the same time, as the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, there was great pressure on India to reduce its emissions of dangerous pollutants. In 2015, the government announced an aggressive target of 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewables by 2022 — which was later increased to 225 GW. The cumulative impact has been a strong increase in the country’s renewable capacity, with a combined annual growth rate of over 20%.
The clean-energy payoff
India currently has around 80 GW of established renewable energy space, up from 35 GW in 2014, with another 30 GW in the pipeline. Solar capacity now is at about 30 GW, up from 2.6 GW in 2014. Wind energy has also shot up to over 36 GW from 21 GW in the same time period.
An important game-changer in India’s renewables’ journey has been the influence of technological advances, which have dramatically decreased the per-unit cost of power. Additionally, new technologies — such as floating solar power, offshore wind, wind-and-solar hybrid projects, and battery storage have developed —which are expected to support further project development.
For example, the country currently has plans for the world’s largest floating solar power plant at 1 GW in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Meanwhile, jobs in the field of energy generation is a critical area where the renewables’ sector is expected to make a lasting impact. Clean energy will lead to about 330,000 new jobs by 2022 and more than 24 million different posts by 2030 in India, according to the International Labour Organization.
The country’s goal is to expand the share of renewable energy in the national energy mix to 40% by 2030, which will need 300 GW of new renewable capacity. Conversely, it will check additional conventional energy capacity to 75 GW in the coming decade. With the weather crisis looming large, renewables must be granted top priority to mitigate carbon emissions — and so far, so good, in India