Of the 1.4 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity, India accounts for over 300 million. The International Energy Agency estimates India will add between 600 GW to 1,200 GW of additional new power generation capacity before 2050. The technologies and fuel sources India adopts, as it adds this electricity generation capacity, may make significant impact to global resource usage and environmental issues. India has an electricity power capacity of 304 GW as of 31st July 2016. In 2014–15, the power consumption was around 1106 TWh with 746 kWh per capita consumption. The per capita consumption is a lot lower as compared to the developed world or even China, but is bound to increase with the rapid economic development of India. With present government’s mission to provide ‘Power for All’ by 2019 to all households and commercial units by providing necessary resources and infrastructure the overall demand is set to rise rapidly. It is important that the additional power capacity to be added in India has lower environmental impact especially in terms of carbon emissions. In India, the electrical power generation has been highly reliant on fossil fuels with coal being the primary source of electricity generation with a share of about 61% of India’s electricity generation. On average, the Indian power plants using India’s coal supply consume about 0.7 kg of coal to generate a kWh, whereas United States thermal power plants consume about 0.45 kg of coal per kWh. This is because of the difference in the quality of the coal, as measured by the Gross Calorific Value (GCV). The high ash content in India’s coal affects the thermal power plant’s potential emissions. Therefore, India’s Ministry of Environment & Forests has mandated the use of beneficiated coals whose ash content has been reduced to 34% (or lower) in power plants in urban, ecologically sensitive and other critically polluted areas, and ecologically sensitive areas. Coal benefaction industry has rapidly grown in India, with current capacity topping 90 MT.
Natural gas is at 9% whereas hydro has a share of 15% leading the non-fossil fuel energy sector in India. Nuclear is at 3% but is projected to have a share as large as 30% by 2050 largely due to the finding of a mine in Tummalapalle, Andhra Pradesh, India in 2011. Results from a research conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission of India in 2011 made the analysts conclude that this mine might have one of the largest reserves of uranium in the world. 63% of the renewable power comes from wind, while solar contributed nearly 16%. With decreasing tariffs and technological advancements in the solar sector, it is poised to be the fastest growing energy resource in India. India receives a lot of irradiation for most part of the year which makes it to be one of the best places for solar. Adding to that, there is an abundance of waste land in India as of now, to have large utility projects. With Prime Minister Modi’s push for solar with a target of 100 GW by 2022 and initiatives like International Solar Mission, solar is getting a lot of traction. Wind power is also expected to grow but not as fast as solar or nuclear.
The various steps needed to reduce the carbon emissions from electricity sector in India needs to look at sustainable energy production as well as sustainable consumption. The access to electricity and per capita demand is surely to rise but the corresponding carbon emissions needs to be checked. Following recommendations can be adopted to achieve both short term and long term goals to reduce carbon emissions:
• Making low carbon energy sources more cost competitive by promoting innovation and research in their technologies. Solar Industry has seen a sharp decline in tariffs due to reduced panel costs which are a result of innovation. Promoting competition and ensuring ease of doing business in these sectors can lead to solar and wind reaching grid parity.
• Access to electricity has been a serious issue in India with many areas still in darkness because of absence of electric grid. Solar provides a modular system to provide access of electricity in those far off remote areas through rooftop solar and micro grids. Government needs to identify the areas for the deployment of these micro grids removing the necessity of grid. But problems of intermittency needs to solved using better energy storage options.
• Improving efficiency of current coal and gas fired plants is important to reduce emissions. The central government has firmed up plans to shut down 11,000 MW of thermal power generation capacity that are at least 25 years old and replace with bigger size plants of super-critical pressure technology totalling to at least 20,000 MW with for an estimated investment of ₹70,000 crore (US$10 billion). India’s reliance on coal is high and efficient coal systems would substantially lower the carbon emissions.
• Technologies like carbon storage should be implemented along with encouragement of research initiatives to make the process better. New coal-fuelled generating plants should be designed and built with the expectation that they will have to be retrofitted in the future to permit carbon capture. Carbon capture technology is not yet ready to incorporate in every new plant, but failure to take low-cost steps to plan for retrofit will have serious consequences on the affordability and operation of coal plants.
• Higher efficacy and use of low power consumption technologies like the LED needs to be promoted and subsidised. India is developing and so it needs affordable yet low environmental impact power options. The widespread adoption of such technologies would retard energy consumption growth.
• Designing buildings and industrial units with low electricity and energy consumption can certainly help. Architects and engineers can think of innovative ways so as to reduce overall energy consumption. Promotion of green buildings with proper certification and incentives from government is needed. Along with that use of power management systems to reduce electricity consumption can save energy.
• Quantifying risks associated with climate change to take better decisions is important. It is also important to create awareness about the problem especially in country like India where ensuring basic necessities has been the primary focus of people.
• Harnessing Nuclear power from thorium based reserves, exploring the new uranium mine, having nuclear treaty done and having a stable regime can help nuclear sector to have a better contribution to the energy mix.
• Open collaboration and technology transfer from the developed world is needed to improve India’s power sector. Improving efficiency of grid and reducing cost of renewable energy can only be achieved if there are existing technologies and skilled professionals in the sector. India needs to create a talent pool to work on next generation energy technologies to solve the critical problems.
Carbon taxing does not seem to be a viable option in India since affordable electricity in India is a necessity for economic growth to reduce widespread poverty. Rather, making cleaner energy options like solar and wind to be competitive against the fossil fuel sources is the solution. India needs a combination of clean energy options along with better efficiency of fossil fuel plants and also in transmission. India presents huge opportunities in solar and nuclear sector, provided it is able to harness its potential. It is important that we customise the solutions as per Indian context rather than just importing the solutions blindly.
The problems which may occur during the implementation would be social factors, like in the case of nuclear, waste disposal and security issues may affect the implementation, whereas in solar, land might be a problem in a country like India where people are so much attached to their land. There are stringent laws for land acquisition also. A stable investment environment is dependent on the government policy and stability in the country. India has to ensure that it works in the path of economic development avoiding social and political distractions.