When the world thinks of countries that could go 100 per cent renewable, the immediate thoughts go to islands with solar and storage, hydro and geothermal rich countries such as Iceland, or even wind and wave-rich countries like Scotland.
One of the last economies imagined going fully renewable would be India, the rising economic giant that is still yet to connect several hundred million people to its mostly coal-fired grid, and is expected to have the highest growth of electricity consumption. But according to environmental group WWF, India could reach a goal of 100 per cent renewables by 2050.
The study examines the possibility of a near 100% Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India by the middle of the century against a reference scenario (REF) in which the economy is likely to be dependent primarily on fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas.
WWF says that to get there India must make some large-scale changes to get on the right track as soon as possible. According to the report, aggressive energy efficiency improvements alone can bring in savings of up to 59 per cent (by both the supply and demand sides) by mid-century.
Biofuels are set to play a large role, especially in the transport sector accounting for nearly 90 per cent of the industry’s requirements. According to WWF the third-generation biofuels in question are currently still in R&D phase and for the plan to go accordingly they must become commercially viable within the next two decades.
Overall, biofuels account for 23 per cent of the total commercial energy supply, most of the transportation needs. Solar thermal accounts for much of industry’s heating needs, and the electricity supply increases nearly 8 fold, with wind contributing the largest component.
The report says the reference scenario depicts an unsustainable, polluting and relatively inefficient energy future in 2051. The renewable scenario, on the other hand, presents a modern, cleaner and highly efficient India and shows that it is, in principle, theoretically feasible to achieve close to 90 per cent penetration of renewable energy sources in the energy mix by 2051.
“However, there are still many unresolved questions in the REN scenario related to resource potentials, availability, commercial viability of alternative options, policy and finance mobilization, barriers of cultural and technological lock-ins, etc,” it says.
“Several feasibility studies are, therefore, needed to lay the basis for moving toward the REN scenario; these have not yet been carried out. There are many interventions that would be necessary to remove various barriers and to achieve higher levels of renewable energy deployment in India.”
Concentrated solar thermal technologies, many of which are currently still in the research and development phase, will take on a large chunk of the nations electricity needs as well as meeting thermal demand in industries that require temperatures below 700°C.
Wind is also set to push India towards its 100 per cent goal. Currently India has no estimates of its offshore wind potential but the WWF predicts that it could have up to 170 GW installed by 2051.
Rural households will be forced to change their cooking habits, meeting their needs through improved cook stoves while urban households switch to electrical based cooking.
In 2010, fossil fuels accounted for 74 per cent of India’s total energy consumed as well as being the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide. India’s greenhouse gas emissions have also steadily risen by 2.9 per cent each year between 1994 and 2007.
Much of the rural population still relies on biomass (such as firewood and agro-residue) for much of its basic cooking needs (around 24.6 per cent of the primary energy supply) as well as using kerosene for lighting purposes.
Coal currently accounts for 42.4 per cent of India’s total primary energy demand in 2010, with the national rail network being the largest coal consumer before 1975 – now overtaken by the power sector (87.7 per cent of total consumption).
Electricity alone plays a crucial role in improving levels of human development and the quality of modern life – with a strong positive link between human development, economic growth and growth in energy and infrastructure.
To sustain India’s own growth it requires large amounts of energy, with little oil reserves and much of its large coal reserves being inaccessible due to technological, social or geological factors, the country has many push factors to get its renewable base up and running. Due to the low oil reserves India has a high import dependence making it more economically vulnerable and well as supply issues.
India started its National Solar Mission in 2010 and is aiming to get 20 GW of grid connected solar power by 2020. As well as this, the Mission is promoting 2,000 MW of off-grid applications; including 20 million solar lighting systems and 20 million square metres of solar thermal collector area by 2022.
In general, India has a vast potential for solar power generation, with about 58 per cent of the country’s total land area receiving an annual global insolation about 5 kWh/m2/day. These areas with 5 kWh/m2/day or above can generate at least 77 W/m2 at 16 per cent efficiency.
Rooftop PV is likely to play a major role in both rural and urban areas with residential, agricultural and industrial priorities reducing the amount of available land for solar programs.
It was estimated that almost 30 per cent of industrial processes in India require heat below 250°C which can be supplied with heat from solar thermal concentrators. Temperatures below 80°C can be met through solar air heaters and solar water heaters. Industries – with the exception of iron, steel, cement and fertilizer – could in theory shift to CST based heating.
Wind energy in India currently ranks second to hydro in renewable energy’s generating electricity. With 17,700 MW of installed capacity India’s rank in harnessing wind energy is fifth in the world after USA, China, Germany and Spain. Over the period of 1992-2010 the wind energy installed capacity in India witnesses an annual growth rate of 37 per cent.
According to the Centre for Wind Energy Technology, most of India’s wind energy is concentrated in five states – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The WWF estimates that India’s total wind potential in megawatts stands at 49,130 at 50 metres, when taken up to 80 metres the reading more than doubles at 102,788 MW.
Hydropower is also being considered, with estimates around 148GW of energy potential. Two rivers, Brahmaputra and Indus, have the highest potential, with only 11 and 50 per cent respectively being utilized thus far.
India’s first tidal power project, with a 3.75 MW capacity, is being set up as well as the Kapasar project which involves building a 30 km-long dam. A recent study cited in the report suggested that also tidal power generation is feasible in certain areas it may not be commercially viable due to diesel costs. Currently, The Government plans to build 7 MW of grid-connected ocean tidal power plans in its 12th five-year plan.
India’s geothermal potential is around 10,600 MW, distributed across various states and in 2009 the country’s geothermal power capacity stood at 10.7 GW. Although geothermal power development is restricted to tectonically active regions, and seeing as India lacks volcanic activity on its mainland, it also faces issues such as costs of drilling and transmission of energy.
Comparing the REF’s and REN’s final energy demands in 2050 highlights not only a stark mix of energy uses but also efficiency levels. In 2051 the REF is approximated to have increased the countries’ energy demand up to 2,545 Mtoe when compared to the REN sitting at 1,461 Mtoe – highlighting an overall energy savings of 43 per cent.
Modeling done by the WWF has estimated that the total undiscounted technology investment cost for the renewables scenario is 42 per cent more than the reference (fossil-fuel) scenario, requiring 544 trillion Indian Rupees from 2011 to 2051. Although the figure sounds quite high it is only around 10 per cent higher than if India was to stick to its reference scenario.
In the renewables scenario, India will have almost a quarter more electrical generation capacity (in GW) than if it continues along the reference scenario path. Furthermore, in 2051 the renewables scenario will yield less than one billion tonnes of carbon emissions, compared to the reference scenario with almost 12 billion tonnes.
WWF highlights that although the renewables scenario is preferred it will not be easy for government to get there, recommending various policy options available including; tax holidays for renewable energy uptake, creating incentives for new projects, enhancing R&D, increasing the budgetary allocation, pricing energy and technology for efficiency and strengthening policy and regulatory set-ups.