Clean energy gains foothold in India, but coal remains dominant

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Bengaluru, India (AP) — Pravinbhai Parmar’s farm in western India’s Gujarat state has been lined with rice, wheat and solar panels for six years.

The 36-year-old is one of the few farmers in his home village of Dhundi who uses solar power to irrigate his crops.

“I was spending about 50,000 rupees ($615) each year to water my crops,” said Palmer. “In solar power, I don’t use anything.”

Palmer sells surplus electricity to the state grid, earning an average of 4,000 rupees ($50) per month.

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

With India aiming to be ‘net zero’ by 2070, India is an agricultural country and has encouraged thousands of farmers to use solar power for irrigation. It exports greenhouse gases to the world and last year announced the largest coal mine auction ever.

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

However, Gujarat is just one of four states among India’s 28 states that have reached their 2022 renewable energy target. Most states have installed less than 50% of the target, and some states, such as West Bengal, have installed only 10% of the target.

Fossil fuels across the country generate over 70% of India’s electricity, and have done so for decades. Coal is by far the largest proportion of dirty fuels. Renewable energy currently accounts for about 10% of India’s electricity demand.

From 2001 to 2021, India installed 168 GW of coal-fired power, according to Ember data analysis. This is almost double the amount of solar and wind power combined. India’s Federal Ministry of Power projects that electricity demand will grow by up to 6% annually over the next decade.

“We are dealing with a rapidly growing sector, so the challenge of reducing the share of coal in the generation mix is ​​particularly acute,” said Thomas Spencer, an energy analyst at the International Energy Agency based in Paris.

Mr Spencer said India’s rapid economic development and rising electricity consumption per capita are driving increased demand.

“Historically, countries that have achieved significant and rapid transitions away from coal tend to have either slowly growing, stagnant or slightly declining electricity demand,” he added. .

According to the Global Energy Monitor report, India ranks among the top seven countries in the world for renewable energy potential. 76 gigawatts of solar and wind power planned by 2025 could avoid around 78 million tonnes of coal annually, saving up to INR 1.6 trillion ($19.5 billion) annually there is.

India has missed its target of adding 175 GW of renewable energy to its total electricity generation by 2022. Experts say India is now doing clean energy to meet her 2030 renewable energy target of installing a total of 450 gigawatts.

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

Last November, the Indian government announced the largest coal mine auction in history, calling for bids on 141 coal mines across 12 states across the country. The government says the additional mines will contribute to his goal of producing 1 billion tonnes of coal by April 2024.

Analysts say some obstacles include obtaining land for clean energy projects. Long-term contracts with coal plants also make it easier for state-owned utilities to buy coal power instead of clean power.

As of December 2022, India’s state-owned distribution company owes $3.32 billion in overdue payments to power producers. Their poor financial condition has weakened their ability to invest in clean energy projects, analysts say.

Analysts say that accelerating the transition to renewable energy will involve building energy storage and adopting more progressive policies, such as a $2.6 billion government plan to encourage the manufacture of the components needed to produce solar energy. enacting and ensuring that these policies are implemented.

“New laws, such as the Energy Conservation Bill and updated orders issued by the federal government, that require power companies to purchase renewable energy, will be a major factor,” said Madura Joshi, an energy analyst at climate think tank E3G. It gives us hope: “Ultimately what we need is to accelerate the installation of renewable energy and related infrastructure.”

She added: We must build renewable energy capacity rapidly. ”

Experts say distribution companies should allow more rooftop solar installations, even if it means short-term financial losses. Investing in modernizing and building new wind energy projects will also accelerate the transition, analysts say.

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

Renewable energy prices have plummeted. The cost of solar power has fallen by about a sixth from 12 rupees (14 cents) per kWh in 2011 to 2.5 rupees (0.03 cents) per kWh in recent years.

Aditya Lolla, energy policy analyst at Ember, is optimistic about India’s clean energy future, saying renewables are “on the cusp” of a surge. He sees rapid growth in renewable energy storage batteries to provide uninterrupted power and clean fuels (such as green hydrogen).

“Clean energy and green hydrogen storage technologies are expected to become affordable in the coming years, and India is betting big on that.”


Wildeman reported from Hartford, Connecticut.


Follow Sibi Arasu on Twitter at @sibi123.


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiatives here. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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