India’s quest for green energy has crossed a major milestone, with renewable plants, mainly wind and solar, surpassing the capacity of large hydroelectricity projects, which were once the country’s biggest source of electricity and regarded as “temples of modern India”.
The total capacity of renewable energy projects expanded to 42,850 megawatts, overtaking hydropower that stood at 42,783 mw, out of the country’s total capacity of about 3 lakh mw on April 30, as per the latest assessment of the Central Electricity Authority. However, the country still depends primarily on thermal power, which has a much higher installed capacity.
Supply from renewable plants depends on sunshine or wind, which are not consistently available. Nevertheless, officials said the surge in renewable capacity marks a significant structural change in the energy landscape of India, which has emerged as the world’s fastest-growing renewable energy market that has companies from Finland and South Africa participating in auctions for solar-powered projects.
Power, Coal and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal has set a Rs 6-lakh-crore target of building renewable energy plants. This includes 1lakh mw of solar power capacity by 2022, five times the earlier target of adding 20,000 mw. “Initially, the target looked very ambitious, but it now looks achievable,” a government official said.
In international climate talks, the government had stated that India will achieve 40% cumulative electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030 with the help of transfer of technology and lowcost international finance, including from Green Climate Fund.
Officials said India is on track to becoming one of the world’s largest producers of green energy and will surpass many developed countries in this endeavour.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted India’s green energy ambition during his address to the US Congress on Wednesday. Analysts said apart from Goyal’s thrust on renewables, environmental issues and protests over displacement and rehabilitation had jammed hydropower development.
The states with major potential for big dams at present are Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. But the Supreme Court stopped construction of 23 out of 24 new hydro projects in Uttarakhand while numerous legal and civil objections hindered projects in Arunachal Pradesh.
Hydropower capacity has increased only marginally — from 40,531.41 mw in March 2014 to 41,267.42 mw in March 2015, to 42,783.43 mw at present. In contrast, renewable energy capacity has grown from 34,351mw in March 2015 to 42,849 mw at present.
“There is a perception that hydropower is neither environmentally friendly nor economically viable,” said Shirish S Garud, director, Energy Environment Technology Division at The Energy Resources Institute. “India has good hydropower potential, but submersion is a big issue. Hydropower has become an activists’ target. Benefits have to be weighed against negative aspects,” he said.
There are other hurdles as well. “Since water is a state subject, state governments’ cooperation is required,” said Yogesh Daruka, partner, advisory practice at PwC. “There have been land acquisition issues,” he said.
STEEP FALL IN HYDROPOWER’S SHARE Hydropower’s share has declined steeply from the mid-1960s, when it was over 45%. That was the time when energy experts shared the Nehruvian view that large dams were “the temples of modern India”. By 2005, hydropower’s share of the energy mix had dropped to 26%.
Only large dams are classified under hydropower. Small dams, with capacities up to 25 mw, come under the ambit of renewable energy. Small hydro capacity increased from 4025 mw at the end of March 2015 to 4273.47 mw at present. There is a proposal to increase the small dam size limit from 25 mw to 100 mw to encourage their growth, since that will make them eligible for tax benefits.
Globally, too, dam-building has suffered because of its ecological ramifications, especially after the World Commission on Dams, headed by Nelson Mandela, in its 2000 report, said large dams have not provided the benefits that were expected while their negative impact has been greater than imagined.
Hydropower has made a muted recovery since then, but its use varies from country to country. “It depends on how much resource is available,” said Daruka. “A country like Bhutan, with freeflowing rivers and mountainous regions, might use 100% hydropower while a country like Bangladesh, which gets only downstream water, not at all.”
Read more at: