The Indian power sector has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, marked by an influx of renewable energy, the creation of a unified electric grid, surplus power generation and improved energy access. What lies ahead is even more exciting, as the country moves towards its energy transition and climate change mitigation goals. Moreover, transmission and distribution networks are expanding and becoming more robust, improving power quality and accessibility. Industry experts discuss the achievements of the power sector over the years and the future outlook…
How has the sector evolved over time? What have been the key achievements?
Over the past decade, India’s energy sector has undergone a remarkable transformation, with renewable energy emerging as a substantial contributor to meeting the nation’s escalating energy demand. In the past five years, renewable energy capacity addition has surged to an impressive 56,137 MW, surpassing the 14,362 MW increase in fossil fuel capacity. This rapid progress in renewable energy is underscored by the fact that it took approximately 65 years to achieve the first 100 GW of fossil fuel capacity, while the first 100 GW of renewable energy capacity was added in just around 30 years, with a substantial 56 GW incorporated within the past five years.
This substantial expansion of renewable energy has been made possible, in no small part, due to the remarkable growth in our transmission capacity. Today, India boasts one of the world’s most extensive and intricately connected electricity grids, comprising an impressive 471,817 ckt. km of transmission lines and 1,185,058 MVA of transformation capacity as of April 2023. In essence, we have evolved into one unified nation, underpinned by a single grid. This monumental stride in our transmission infrastructure has served as a key catalyst for the exponential growth of renewable energy.
While the Indian government has been unceasing in its efforts to bolster the sector’s viability, the results are becoming increasingly, though gradually, evident. Initiatives such as the Late Payment Surcharge scheme, the implementation of payment security measures for drawing power from interstate generating stations, funding tied to enhancing distribution segment efficiency, and the establishment of green open access rules stand testament to the government’s commitment to fostering a conducive environment for the renewable energy sector.
The evolution of the power sector in India has been truly transformative, reflecting our nation’s commitment to a greener and more sustainable future. In a span of just nine years, we have added an impressive 175 GW of generation capacity. What is even more remarkable is the doubling of our renewable energy capacity in the past three years alone, reaching an impressive 176 GW by July 2023. This journey has not only transitioned us from a power deficit to a power surplus nation but has also strengthened our position as a global leader in renewable energy adoption.
Today, we stand strong as the fourth largest globally, in terms of installed renewable energy capacity, with a remarkable 43 per cent of our total installed electricity capacity derived from non-fossil energy sources. Taking a look at our key achievements, there is much to celebrate.
- We achieved our Nationally Determined Contributions target of 40 per cent installed electricity capacity from non-fossil sources, way ahead of the projected schedule in 2021.
- The surge in solar capacity has been nothing short of extraordinary, with an impressive 64.3 GW added between 2014 and 2023, marking a 23-fold increase from the 2014 levels.
- Our commitment to clean energy adoption has extended to rural areas, with the distribution of around 9 million solar lighting systems and the provision of 530,000 solar pumps to farmers.
- The proportion of renewable energy (excluding large hydro) in our electricity mix soared from 6.4 per cent in 2013-14 to an impressive 12.5 per cent in 2022-23.
- The reduction in solar tariffs from over Rs 6 per unit in 2014 to under Rs 2.30 per unit in 2020-21 showcases the major strides we have taken in cost efficiency.
Indigenous manufacturing capacities for solar modules, cells and wind turbines have seen substantial growth, highlighting our commitment to self-sufficiency. Foreign direct investment in the renewable energy sector has surged by 3.7 times, demonstrating international confidence in our efforts. Additionally, loan disbursements by the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency for renewable projects have increased six-fold over the past nine years. Overall, there is a lot that we can be proud of as an industry.
Over the past decade, India’s power sector has witnessed a transformation, marked by noteworthy achievements. A key achievement is the country’s transition towards renewable energy, resulting in a significant increase in capacity and remarkably low tariffs in solar and wind energy. This shift towards renewable energy aligns with India’s ambitious target of achieving 500 GW of non-fossil capacity by 2030. Despite notable achievements such as enhanced grid discipline, with insignificant fluctuations in grid health parameters (such as frequency and voltage) and improvements at the discom level, including efforts to bridge the cost of electricity and tariffs and reduce AT&C losses and receivables, a lot more still needs to be done!
The government’s interventions have played a pivotal role in this transformation. Programmes such as 100 per cent electrification and the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY); amendments to the Electricity Act; several progressive rules, regulations and guidelines; and the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme have had a profound impact on the sector’s growth. Energy efficiency measures such as the Perform, Achieve and Trade scheme have promoted responsible energy consumption, while the promotion of electric vehicles (EVs) and associated charging infrastructure has accelerated the electrification of mobility. Furthermore, grid modernisation efforts, including the deployment of smart grid technologies, have accelerated the move towards general network access with better grid reliability as well as the seamless integration of renewable energy sources.
Dr Praveer Sinha
The Indian power sector’s trajectory has been nothing short of transformative. From its origins as a government-centric entity, it has metamorphosed into a diverse arena, enriched by the dynamism of the private sector. It is at the forefront of transformation with new energy sources and technologies emerging. The three Ds – decentralisation, decarbonisation and digitalisation – are playing a significant role in driving this energy transition. India is expected to witness the largest increase in energy demand worldwide in the coming decades and has set a target to install 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030.
The key achievements include improved efficiency in power generation, enhanced grid infrastructure and increased electrification. Moreover, smart grid implementation has enabled better demand management and reduced losses. Further, government policies and incentives have spurred investment in clean energy projects, driving economic growth and job creation. The sector’s evolution has also driven innovations in energy storage and microgrids, fostering energy independence and resilience. With India’s G20 presidency, mutually beneficial cooperation with our neighbours in realising the vision of interconnected green grids can also be transforming.
How has the performance of the sector been in advancing the energy transition?
In the past few years, energy transition has gained a substantial momentum. The share of renewable energy (excluding large hydro) in the total capacity has experienced an ascent, progressing from 20 per cent to 30 per cent over the past five years. What is noteworthy is our transition from merely generating wind and solar power to effectively fulfilling the requirements for round-the-clock supply and peak power through innovative hybrid plus storage systems. With the right strategic investments and a continued commitment to sustainable practices, India is undeniably well-positioned to not only meet but also potentially exceed its ambitious renewable energy targets by 2030.
“With the right strategic investments and continued commitment to sustainable practices, India is well-positioned to not only meet but also potentially exceed its ambitious renewable energy targets by 2030.” J.P. Chalasani
As the energy sector evolves, we are witnessing a significant transformation in India’s energy mix. The nation’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and embracing renewable sources is commendable. The ambitious target of achieving 50 per cent of non-fossil fuel-based electric power capacity by 2030 is a significant stride towards sustainability.
However, even today, India’s energy landscape is dominated by fossil fuels, with a staggering primary energy consumption of 880 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe). The power, industry and transport sectors jointly contribute to over 70 per cent of the energy demand and a significant 85 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. While the commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 is admirable, it is undoubtedly an immense challenge.
Projections reveal that India’s final energy demand could surge by 70-80 per cent, reaching 1,050-1,200 Mtoe by 2070 compared to 2020 levels. Significantly, the share of electricity within the energy mix is projected to witness a major rise, surging from 18 per cent in 2020 to over 50 per cent by 2070. This transformation will predominantly be propelled by non-fossil fuel sources. Projections from modelling exercises indicate that India would require grid-scale renewable energy capacity exceeding 2,000 GW (excluding renewables for green hydrogen production) to achieve its net-zero target by 2070. However, the historical pace of renewable capacity augmentation, typically limited to 12-14 GW annually, falls considerably short of the demand, which stands at 35-40 GW per year. Consequently, accelerating capacity deployment becomes pivotal to achieving the imperative emission reduction objective and advancing towards our energy transition goals.
“We are witnessing a major transformation in India’s energy mix. The ambitious target of achieving 50 per cent of non-fossil fuel-based electric power capacity by 2030 is a significant stride towards sustainability.” Shivanand Nimbargi
The power sector in India has demonstrated commendable progress in advancing the energy transition over the years. In recent times, the sector’s performance in this regard has been noteworthy, owing to various initiatives, some of which are highlighted below:
- Renewable energy growth: As of July 2023, the cumulative solar and wind capacity stands at 115 GW, with around 37 per cent of it commissioned in the past three years, indicating a clear acceleration in the adoption of renewable energy. The consistent growth of renewable energy installations and declining costs reflect the sector’s commitment to clean energy sources.
- Policy support: The government has introduced a series of policy support initiatives to catalyse the energy transition, such as renewable purchase obligations, renewable generation obligations, hydro power obligations, renewable energy targets, the National Solar Mission, and incentives for clean energy adoption. In addition, the waiver of interstate transmission charges for capacities built until June 2025, duly tapering it until June 2028, is a significant incentive for renewable energy capacities and their utilisation.
- Electrification of transportation: Efforts to promote EVs through the introduction of policies (FAME and PLI schemes) and incentives across states are contributing to the reduction in fossil fuel consumption in the transportation sector.
However, challenges continue to emerge given the size of the sector and the legacy of challenges. The sector must address issues related to the integration of intermittent renewable energy sources into the grid and reduction of coal dependency while prioritising affordability for all citizens.
“The current state of the power distribution segment in India is characterised by persistent fiscal losses and debt challenges.” Anil Sardana
Dr Praveer Sinha
The surge in demand for clean energy is propelled by both businesses and consumers. This momentum is fuelled by a growing recognition of climate change effects, the imperative for energy security and the drive to manage energy expenses. Technological innovations have made renewable energy generation more cost-effective and accessible. Grid modernisation and energy storage technologies have enhanced the integration of intermittent renewables. Policies and incentives have been pivotal in fostering investment in renewable projects and promoting energy efficiency measures. Collaborative efforts between governments, industries and communities are driving this transition forward. While challenges remain, including energy storage scalability and fossil fuel dependency, the power sector’s performance reflects a promising trajectory towards a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.
“To seamlessly integrate the growing influx of renewable energy, strategic capital deployment in state-of the-art transmission lines, substations and intelligent grid technologies is non-negotiable.” Dr Praveer Sinha
What is your view on the future energy mix in the country? What should be the key focus areas to achieve the desired energy mix?
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has conducted a comprehensive region-wise study of power requirements for the year 2030, encompassing all 8,760 hours of the year. This rigorous analysis has projected a substantial surge in India’s energy needs, calling for an installed capacity of 777 GW, a significant jump from the current 415 GW. Moreover, energy demand is estimated to reach a staggering 2,441 BUs, compared to the current level of 1,624 BUs.
To fulfil this increasing demand in the most economically efficient manner, it is projected that by 2030, India should aim for a solar capacity of 293 GW, up from the current 67 GW. Additionally, wind capacity should be augmented to 100 GW from the existing 43 GW and battery storage capacity should reach 42 GW. This concerted effort is expected to propel renewable energy’s contribution to the overall energy mix to an impressive 32 per cent by 2030.
In striving to attain these ambitious targets, there are several crucial focal points that need to be addressed. These include prioritising infrastructure development for the timely execution of projects, ensuring policy stability, sustaining the emphasis on bolstering domestic manufacturing capabilities, securing adequate funding from banks and financial institutions and implementing strategies to significantly enhance the skilled workforce in the renewable energy sector, among other critical factors.
In charting the trajectory of India’s future energy mix, several key focus areas emerge as pivotal to achieving the desired balance. Foremost among these is the imperative of seamlessly integrating variable renewable sources into the grid, a challenge that underscores the critical role of innovative storage solutions. This endeavour is intrinsically linked to the second focus area, which entails embracing technologies such as battery storage and pumped storage plants to facilitate adaptable and resilient energy generation.
Another critical facet is the optimisation of energy consumption across sectors through efficient practices. By enhancing energy efficiency, we not only contribute to our sustainability goals but also optimise resource utilisation. Moreover, the development of a robust and agile smart grid infrastructure is essential to accommodate the dynamic shifts in energy patterns that the future holds.
The projected figures underscore the magnitude of our energy aspirations. With a peak electricity demand of 334.8 GW and an electrical energy requirement of 2,279.7 BUs anticipated for 2029-30, it is evident that comprehensive strategies are vital to meet these demands sustainably. The anticipated integration of green hydrogen production introduces an additional energy requirement of 250 BUs by 2030, necessitating a substantial ramp-up of renewable generation.
The CEA’s comprehensive energy demand and supply model reflects a transformative shift. Projections indicate a reduction in the share of coal from 73 per cent in 2022-23 to 55 per cent by 2030, as renewable sources surge from 12 per cent to 31 per cent in the electricity mix. With India’s solar and wind capacity and generation expected to quadruple by 2030, to reach 392 GW and 761 BUs respectively, our renewable journey has to be continuous and relentless. Furthermore, the report underscores the need for approximately 60 GW of storage capacity by 2030, encompassing both pumped hydro and battery storage. This robust storage infrastructure is essential to manage excess renewable generation and meet peak demand effectively.
The future energy mix in our country demands a strategic approach that addresses both immediate challenges and long-term sustainability. While renewable energy is pivotal for reducing emissions and ensuring a greener future, we must acknowledge the constraints of intermittency, supply chain, etc. Additionally, the unavailability of optimal sites (onshore) for wind and the high cost of offshore wind are challenges that we must address over the next decade.
Meeting the base load requirements remains a pressing concern until energy storage solutions, particularly chemical battery technology, become economically viable. Pumped storage projects (PSPs), although promising, have a prolonged gestation period.
To navigate these challenges, a multifaceted approach is essential. Expediting research and development efforts is crucial to enhance the efficiency of existing technologies, introduce new technologies, support the transfer of new technologies and promote domestic manufacturing. Ultimately, our energy mix should evolve towards a harmonious blend of renewables, energy storage and responsive thermal power, with continuous investment in innovation and infrastructure.
Dr Praveer Sinha
India’s energy trajectory is unequivocally set to be dominated by renewable sources, with solar and wind energy playing key roles. To seamlessly integrate the growing influx of renewable energy, strategic capital deployment in state-of-the-art transmission lines, substations and intelligent grid technologies is non-negotiable.
Concurrently, the pivotal role of energy storage cannot be understated. A diversified energy storage strategy, spanning battery storage, pumped hydro storage and other avant-garde solutions, is essential. Equally critical is the astute management of electricity demand, mitigating the need for superfluous power generation. In this regard, strategies encompassing energy efficiency, demand response mechanisms and dynamic pricing are instrumental in refining our energy consumption matrix. Furthermore, international cooperation and collaboration in renewable energy are both necessary and essential. Global synergies, characterised by shared technological expertise and low-cost financing, can amplify India’s renewable journey manyfold. In the financing and execution of renewable projects, the efficacy of public-private partnerships is undeniable.
What is your assessment of the current state of the power distribution segment? Do you see signs of improvement?
Dr Praveer Sinha
The majority of distribution utilities (discoms) have been plagued by escalating aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, expanding financial deficits and mounting debt. The delay in tariff revisions in several states, as compared to the rising power costs, has increased the disparity between the cost of supply and the revenue generated.
In the face of challenges in the power distribution segment, Tata Power stands firm in its dedication to elevating the prevailing standards. Harnessing our advanced technological capabilities, we are diligently addressing technical and commercial inefficiencies within distribution networks. Our analytical and data-driven strategies, bolstered by the deployment of sophisticated infrastructure, aim to enhance power supply quality and dependability across the country.
Today, Tata Power serves over 12.9 million customers through its distribution companies using a public-private partnership approach. This model includes Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited, which operates in North Delhi in partnership with the Delhi government, as well as TP Northern Odisha Distribution Limited, TP Central Odisha Distribution Limited, TP Western Odisha Distribution Limited and TP Southern Odisha Distribution Limited. These collaborations have been established as joint ventures with the Government of Odisha and Tata Power has been successful in reducing AT&C losses in double digits in the past three years. Tata Power is wholeheartedly committed to spearheading the evolution of the distribution segment towards greater efficiency and financial sustainability.
The current state of the power distribution segment in India is characterised by persistent fiscal losses and debt challenges, which have been further exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there are promising signs of improvement in the segment, as indicated by the 11th Integrated Ratings Report:
- AT&C loss reduction: The sector has shown progress, with AT&C losses improving from 19.9 per cent in FY2020 to 16.5 per cent in FY2022. This improvement can be attributed to enhanced collection efficiency, which rose from 93.1 per cent in FY2020 to 97.2 per cent in FY2022, along with subsidies disbursed by states.
- Reduced cash gap: The sectoral cash gap decreased significantly, dropping from Rs 970 billion in FY2020 to Rs 530 billion in FY2022.
- Loss reduction: Losses, measured at 79 paise per unit in FY2020, were reduced to 40 paise per unit in FY2022.
Moreover, the power distribution segment is set to experience robust growth in electricity demand. The pre-Covid growth rate of around 5 per cent until FY2019 has increased to approximately 9 per cent in FY2023. This growth is driven by government initiatives such as the target of achieving a $5 trillion economy.
What are the biggest challenges facing the sector? How can these be resolved?
The critical issue of sector viability remains paramount. We are yet to achieve tariffs that accurately reflect costs, primarily due to the lingering impact of socio-political factors on the power sector. The disparity between average revenue realisation and average cost of supply continues to be alarmingly negative. Furthermore, the lack of definitive policies from discoms concerning matters such as open access and banking charges poses a significant obstacle to investments in the commercial and industrial and captive segments. The challenge of maintaining grid stability amidst the substantial renewable energy capacity addition persists.
It is imperative to intensify our focus on reforms within the distribution segment — with political will to drive change. The privatisation of Delhi’s distribution system stands as a remarkable example, yielding unprecedented results. Consequently, it is imperative to undertake further initiatives aimed at involving the private sector in the distribution space.
As we witness the substantial penetration of renewable energy, addressing the issue of variability demands heightened attention. Prioritising large-scale battery manufacturing, a substantial ramp-up in pumped storage schemes, and the seamless integration of thermal generation with renewable energy sources should feature prominently on the generation agenda. Simultaneously, we must accelerate efforts on the demand side through measures such as time-of-day tariffs and widespread adoption of smart metering technologies.
Navigating the path towards a sustainable energy landscape is not without its challenges and the power sector grapples with several key hurdles. To ensure the smooth commissioning of renewable energy projects, there is a critical need for the nationwide implementation of land acquisition policies for deemed non-agricultural land, simplification of processes and elimination of the necessity for ceiling permissions. The impact of the stringent provisions of the Deviation and Settlement Regulations, 2023 on revenue streams for renewable projects underscores the importance of refining the forecasting mechanism. This refinement will enhance predictability and bolster project viability.
The current constraints in interstate transmission system (ISTS) connectivity due to limited substation capacity pose challenges for renewable energy development in high-resource areas. Overcoming this constraint requires strategic upgrades in infrastructure to unlock the full potential of renewable-rich regions, in addition to building new transmission capacities.
Extending the Approved List of Models and Manufacturers’ provision for bid-out projects under long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) becomes crucial, as India’s manufacturing capacity currently faces challenges in keeping up with capacity additions. A supportive regulatory framework will catalyse manufacturing growth and align with capacity expansion patterns.
The ISTS waiver, a significant enabler, needs to be extended for two more years to achieve the ambitious target of 400 GW of renewable capacity addition by 2030. Simultaneously, expediting the commissioning of key ISTS substations in renewable-rich areas becomes essential to ensure that projects are operational within the waiver period.
As we confront these challenges, strategic regulatory and infrastructural interventions can pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable power sector.
The unexpected spikes in peak demand, with the peak demand reaching 241 GW on September 1, 2023, emphasise the need for a resilient and flexible power system. Enhancing grid integration, upgrading transmission infrastructure and investing in energy storage solutions are essential steps to address this issue.
Minimising T&D losses remains a persistent challenge. The widespread implementation of smart meters across the country can significantly reduce these losses, enhance billing accuracy and empower consumers with real-time energy data.
The financial health of discoms continues to be a long-standing concern. Addressing discoms’ financial woes requires a multi-pronged approach, including tariff reforms, improved operational efficiency and prudent fiscal management. Resolving these challenges demands a comprehensive strategy encompassing a balanced energy mix, grid resilience, technology adoption and financial reforms. Collaboration among the government, industry, and civil society is crucial for surmounting these obstacles and ensuring a reliable and sustainable power sector for India’s bright future.
Dr Praveer Sinha
As the nation grapples with the dual challenges of meeting its burgeoning power demand and committing to a sustainable future, the power sector’s dynamics are rapidly evolving. The onset of summer leads to an unprecedented surge in power demand. This surge underscores the need for a robust and resilient power infrastructure. However, the backbone of our power sector, coal-based thermal power plants, are under strain. Fluctuating international coal prices have posed a dilemma: whether to produce at a loss or to shut down. The situation is untenable in the long run and highlights the urgent need to diversify our energy sources.
For India to truly harness the potential of solar energy, it must invest in building domestic manufacturing capacities across the solar value chain. Furthermore, significant investments in grid modernisation, transmission networks and energy storage solutions are essential. Along with a progressive regulatory environment promoting equitable tariffs, there is a strong need to invest in research, state-of-the-art technologies and innovation.
What is your outlook for the sector for the near to medium term?
In the near to medium term, we anticipate a sustained momentum in renewable energy capacity expansion. This growth will not only stem from the conventional bidding and utility PPA routes but will also be driven by substantial demand emanating from large industrial clients. These industries are actively transitioning from fossil fuel-based captive plants to embracing renewable sources or establishing entirely new captive capacities rooted in renewables. Beyond the obvious cost advantages, this strategic shift substantially diminishes their carbon footprint, aligning with environmental sustainability goals and reaping commensurate benefits. Furthermore, green hydrogen projects are likely to generate substantial demand and hold great potential for transforming the energy landscape.
Within the retail distribution segment, we can expect to witness a series of incremental measures aimed at enhancing commercial viability. Initiatives such as time-of-day tariffs and the widespread adoption of smart metering technologies are on the cusp of becoming a tangible reality.
Having nurtured an optimistic outlook on the power sector for over four decades, I find my optimism has now ascended to even greater heights.
In the near to medium term, the power sector is poised for a dynamic transformation, with energy transition becoming a necessity. Renewable energy sources will continue to play a central role in the energy mix, driven by environmental and climate change concerns. In addition to this, the emergence of green hydrogen as a viable energy carrier and advancements in nuclear technologies, especially small modular reactors (SMRs), will contribute to a more diverse and sustainable energy portfolio. PSPs, another pivotal focus area, will gain prominence in the near to medium term as they offer a reliable means of grid balancing and storage, addressing the intermittency issue of renewable energy.
Coal is likely to remain a mainstream source for baseload requirements in the short to medium term. However, we can anticipate a gradual transition away from coal, with battery energy storage systems, PSPs and SMRs gaining prominence in the longer run, driven by technological advancements and changing market dynamics.
Dr Praveer Sinha
In the near to medium term, the outlook for the power sector in India is promising and transformative. This is one sector that has performed exceedingly well and grown in spite of challenges like the pandemic and the energy crises in Europe. We recently crossed an all-time high in power demand in June. We further expect demand to grow by around 10 per cent this year. The power sector will also complement the growing aspirations of our country by supporting the various economic drivers required to become a $5 trillion economy. The ongoing shift towards renewables should continue, with a focus on capacity addition and manufacturing.
Companies will increasingly look at bundled or hybrid solutions in their efforts to provide green power. There is also an ongoing effort by companies to provide green power that is affordable across various customer segments. One will see technology driving a positive impact in areas such as smart meters, smart grids, green hydrogen, energy storage and other integrated solutions.
Recent global warming incidents have highlighted the need to step up the pace of the clean energy transition and G20 engagements echo this intent in a unified way. We have no option but to move expeditiously on this front. We are also at a time when we see various synergies among stakeholders working together to achieve the clean energy goals. The Indian power sector is slated for sustainable growth and will be one of the key sectors enabling the country’s future development.