Views of R.K. Singh: “Energy transition is proceeding at a rapid pace in India”

“Energy transition is proceeding at a rapid pace in India”

R.K. SinghAt the India-International Solar Alliance Energy Transition Dialogue 2021 held in August 2021, R.K. Singh, minister for power, new and renewable energy, outlined the country’s achievements in the field of renewable energy and its energy transition plans. Edited excerpts…

The energy transition is proceeding at a rapid pace in India, and this stems from the fact that our government is totally committed to the environment and energy transition. The Government of India has also set a target specifying that by 2022, we will establish 175 GW of renewable capacity, excluding hydro capacity. Now, the target has been expanded to 450 GW by 2030. These ambitious targets are a result of concern for the environment. This concern stems from the fact that India has traditionally respected and attached great importance to the sun, wind and nature in general. Already, the non-fossil fuel component in India’s generation is around 38.5 per cent, although we had initially pledged to attain 40 per cent by 2030. However, in a new, exciting turn of events, India will generate 40 per cent of its electricity through non-fossil fuel means by 2022 or 2023.

Overall, we have already established over 100 GW of solar and wind energy in addition to a small quantity of biomass. Additionally, we have 50 GW under construction and 27 GW under bidding. If we include hydro within the ambit of renewable energy, India can be said to have 146 GW of installed renewable capacity. From another point of view, India has a non-fossil fuel-based capacity (renewable energy plus nuclear) of 153 GW. We have been making good progress despite Covid.

Successful renewable energy policies

Besides political will, the success of renewable energy can be attributed to the fact that we realised early on that the involvement of the private sector in a big way is crucial, given the ambitious targets we want to achieve in a short span of time. Therefore, we designed policies meant to attract private sector interest, and thankfully they were successful. We have transparent bidding processes with standard bidding documents and a strong system to expeditiously address any problems faced by developers. As far as land acquisition is concerned, we are trying to provide land in states such as Rajasthan and Ladakh, where there are massive tracts of land lying unused, as well as sunlight availability. The key policy focus has been on creating transmission lines to these solar parks that have attracted private players. We have identified the problems faced by developers and are actively endeavouring to resolve them. We have a programme of setting up green grids, which requires the creation of renewable energy development centres. The first round of green grids is complete. We are working on connecting more areas with renewable energy, such as Ladakh. We have also set our sights on floating solar, offshore grids, and the technology required to create them.

“The greening of electricity is just one component of the decarbonisation strategy. To achieve net zero
emissions, we would also have to focus on decarbonising industries.”

Focus on hydro

The other aspects that need to be addressed are balancing and storage. The former can be achieved using firm renewable energy sources such as hydropower. It is imperative to have sufficiently large, firm sources of capacity in order to balance variable renewable energy sources. Hydro energy can instantly ramp up and down. Although natural gas-based capacity can similarly ramp up and down, it is not a clean source of energy. Thus, we prefer to depend on hydroelectric plants as firm sources of renewable energy and for purposes of balancing.

Need for energy storage

The cost of storage will be a game changer, as it can render renewable energy extremely cheap by eliminating the dependence on maintaining firm sources of power and can further increase the pace of adoption of renewable energy worldwide. Currently, the cost of renewable energy generation with storage comes to about Rs 6 per unit, which is extremely high compared to the cost of fossil fuel energy generation. It is thus imperative to contemplate methods of improving storage in order to achieve the net zero emissions targets set by several countries.

We are also focusing on developing pumped hydro and are creating favourable policies to promote it and attract investor interest towards it. As far as lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are concerned, while they are expensive, our strategy is to increase the volume of Li-ion installation and Li-ion-based storage in India so that the costs decline owing to economies of scale.

Currently, the largest storage plant in the world has 250 MWh of capacity, implying that energy storage is still a nascent technology. However, we are optimistically planning to develop 4,000 MWh of battery storage as an ancillary power source for the Indian grid, which is the largest single grid with a single frequency in the world. Doing so will facilitate balancing and storage at the grid level, instead of plant-level storage, which is expensive. A certain component of this 4,000 MWh will be of a commercial nature, enabling the developer to store solar/wind energy and sell the surplus when the electricity prices go up, through the twin energy exchanges that have been set up in the past few years. In the future, we plan to issue an even larger bid for a 12 GWh storage plant, to be situated in Ladakh.

It would be extremely helpful if other countries in the world with ambitious net zero targets invest in battery-based energy storage capacity, as this could potentially bring prices down through economies of scale.

“The success of renewable energy can be attributed to the fact that we realised early on that the involvement of the private sector is crucial.”

Outlook on green hydrogen

Electricity generation accounts for only 20 per cent of total emissions and, therefore, the greening of electricity is just one component of the decarbonisation strategy. In order to achieve net zero emissions, we would also have to focus on decarbonising industries, mobility, refining, fertilisers, etc.

In the short to medium term, it is probable that two-wheelers and four-wheelers will transition to battery-based vehicular technologies. Apart from this, it is envisaged that in India, long-haul and heavy-load vehicles will operate on green hydrogen. We also plan to incorporate green hydrogen instead of grey hydrogen in certain areas of refining, which will naturally reduce the demand for natural gas. Similarly, we propose to utilise green ammonia instead of grey ammonia in the fertiliser industry. The government plans to issue bids in these areas in the next four to five months. We plan to mandate the refining and fertiliser industries to incorporate a certain percentage of green hydrogen in their operations in order to increase its viability. Over time, this obligatory component will be raised from the initial 15 per cent to 30 per cent.

A major issue with green hydrogen and its adoption is the disparity in demand and supply of electrolysers and their production/manufacturing. Implementing the proposed mandate of obligatory utilisation of green hydrogen in fertiliser and refining operations will require the installation of 4,000 MW of electrolysers in the first year of the mandate, but the total global manufacturing capacity of electrolysers is only 2,000 MW currently. Therefore, we are going to come up with a production-linked incentive

scheme to incentivise domestic production of electrolysers, with a targeted manufacturing capacity of 10,000 MW in the first phase. The total requirement for electrolysers in India will be around 20,000 MW.


At this point it should be acknowledged that India’s per capita emissions are a third of the world average, and we are on track to achieve our emission targets before our estimated time frame. For instance, we had committed to reducing the emission intensity of the economy by 2030 to a third of what it was in 2005, but by 2021, we have already achieved a reduction of 26-28 per cent. Therefore, it is exceedingly probable that we will exceed this target by 2030. That said, a reduction in emissions has to be achieved by all countries together in order to curtail the deleterious effects on the environment. Hence, it is imperative that all countries in the world meticulously delineate their targets, policy guidelines and strategic road map through which they intend to achieve their emission reduction targets.