In its NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) submission in October 2015for the UNFCCC Paris Agreement (December 2015) on climate change, the Indian government had pledged that 40% of its installed electricity capacity would be from Non-Fossil fuel energy sources (as these fossil fuels, Coal, petroleum and natural gas, are the biggest sources of Carbon dioxide emission, driving climate change) by the year 2030. In subsequent pledges and announcements, this was upgraded to 50% of installed electricity (power) capacity with 450 GW (or 450,000 Mega Watts) by 2030 entering in official documents. In further announcements, this was increased to 500 GW of installed Renewable capacity by 2030.  Also, suppose one combines the 500 GW and 50% announcements. In that case, it shows the target of total electricity capacity of India is fixed at about 1000 GWe by the year 2030, from today’s (Jan. 2024) —

The total installed capacity of                — 422 GW, comprising

Thermal generation capacity                 — 238 GW, or 56.8% of total  

All Renewables (including hydro)          — 176.5 GW or 41.8%

Nuclear electricity                                  — 7.5 GW or 1.8%

Total Non-fossil fuel                               — 184 GW or 43.6% 

To make it clear again, “Non-fossil fuel” and Renewable are not the same, and are often confused by commentators and the media.  Non-fossil includes nuclear energy, however no definition categorises this as renewable. In contrast, even the definition of Renewable energy has been modified by the government, by including big (over 25 MW capacity) hydropower plants now re-categorised as renewable energy sources.  It may also be noted that in many announcements and even official press releases of the Indian government, the confusion between “installed capacity” and produced energy/ ‘generation’ and between “electricity capacity” and total Energy occurs frequently. Just consider the Press Information bureau statement (28th September 2023) of union minister Dr Jitendra Singh that “we have already achieved our commitment of 40% energy production from renewable sources, way ahead of the 2030 Paris Agreement target”, this reflects the same laughable lack of understanding of what is generation VS installed capacity, and electricity capacity vs energy.

“The Union Minister said that the last nine years have witnessed the Indian crusade against climate change. “We have already achieved our commitment of 40% energy production from renewable sources, way ahead of the 2030 Paris Agreement target,” he said.”  (Press Information Bureau, September 28, 2023).

 For the record, only the installed renewable electricity (including big hydropower) capacity of India reached 41% of the total installed electricity capacity in mid-2023. And that was achieved with the re-categorisation trick, by converting overnight, an installed hydropower capacity of about 44 GW then, from non-renewable to renewable. The reality of targets for total electricity generation and that by RE sources are made clear by the figures below (from the Ministry of Power)

Total electricity generation target in 2023-24                       —     1750 billion units (kWh)

Thermal (mainly coal & lignite) generation                             —     1324.11 BU (75.65%)

Hydropower generation                                                             —     156.70 BU  (8.91%)

New renewables (Solar + wind + biomass+ Small hydro)     —     215 BU  (12.28%) 

Nuclear                                                                                        —     46.19 BU (2.63%)

Thus, the percentage of power or electricity generation expected out of the new renewable is 12.28%. Even including hydropower, it comes to 21.24% of the total targeted power generation. This is not a bad achievement for a country that started from a very high dependence on coal power just a decade ago, but it is far lower than the claimed 41%, only about half as much.  And if you consider the ministers’ governments claim that “India is producing over 40% of its ENERGY from renewable sources”, it’s much farther from the truth.  The “total renewable energy production” in India is roughly about 4.5% of our “total primary energy consumption”. A far cry from being a renewable energy champion, contrary to government propaganda.  

Let’s now look at how India is progressing to achieve its Renewable pledges, even though that’s only the electricity sector.  To be fair, Indian government has also announced some other measures to decarbonise the non-electricity sectors, like a target of 5 million tons of “green hydrogen” production by 2030, introduction of and incentives for battery electric cars and buses etc. But if one analyses better – hydrogen is Not an energy source, but an energy carrier or storage medium, just like a battery.  And to be categorised “Green”, this green-hydrogen has to be electrolysed by renewable electricity, which is already included in 500 GW RE target of the government. Similarly, the battery-electric cars and buses (I am not considering here the energy conversion efficiencies and losses at every stage of conversion, which will show these in much poorer lights than projected) have to be charged from the grid, where all these projected 500 GW (whether that target will be achieved is a serious doubt, based on current trends) of RE will feed. Any electric car or bus gets charged from an electricity grid that is 75% powered by dirty coal today, so any benefits are to be diluted to that extent.  

As is clear from above figures, India’s present installed RE capacity of 176.5 GW has to become 500 GW by 2030, if our climate / RE pledges are to be fulfilled. That means an addition of 323.5GW of additional RE capacity in the remaining 6.5 years, including the whole of the 2030 target year, or an addition of 49.77 GW of RE addition every year on average from now on, from July 2024 to December 2030. How much is our RE installation now, facing this approx 50 GW per year challenge? 

In the 12 months from April 01, 2023 to March 31, 2024, Indian power sector – public and private sectors together, managed to install a total additional RE capacity of just about 18.48 GW!

The Indian government or its New and Renewable Energy Ministry, or the prime minister (who is fond of grandiose announcements, particularly in international fora, to get the claps and accolades that these bring) has Not clarified How we will suddenly achieve, on a sustained basis, nearly three (3) times the annual RE installation as we have done in the latest year! India has a smaller-than-required domestic capacity of Solar PV panel manufacturing, though it’s increasing significantly – though mostly the panel assembly operations, not much progress yet on high-tech wafer manufacturing. India has also imposed sharp import duties on imports of both Solar PV modules (40%) and solar cells (25%) to encourage domestic production as well as curb imports from China (for political reasons also). But with China still manufacturing about 80% of all global production of Solar PV, these high tariffs have affected Indian plans of higher Solar PV power installations. As per reports, India’s Solar PV module manufacturing capacity (with both domestic and imported solar cells) has crossed 40 GW, while its solar cell production capacity is touching 8 GW.  While these reports – if correct, give some hope that India’s RE ambitions (critically needed to shift away from very polluting and climate-threatening coal power) might be met to a large extent, the present pace of RE rollout does not bear testimony to these claims, unfortunately.    

For the sake of climate action, for reducing the massive air pollution in India (coal mining and burning is a major contributor of that) that kills an estimated 1.6 million people each year, and for saving India’s last remaining bio-diverse forests from being destroyed for coal mining, we need to shift from this major dependence on coal to renewable. It is another matter that the way RE is being rolled out in India is again having many adverse impacts on poorer communities, pastoralists, and rural populations being displaced. While we need a fast transition away from coal and other fossil fuels, this has to be a just transition, with poorer communities benefiting – not suffering more. And that pathway is eminently doable, given the understanding and political will.  

Author: Soumya Dutta. MAUSAM / FoE-India.

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