Renewable electricity needs to grow 55-fold to achieve zero emission in India by 2050: Study

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Updated: Mar 22, 2021 3:04 PM

Renewables in electricity must increase 55-fold for India to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a report by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

solar energyThe study is the first exercise to outline multiple pathways for India to attain net-zero emissions, rather than fixating on a single scenario or a single year. (Representational image)

Renewables in electricity must increase 55-fold for India to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a report by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

India will need to generate at least 83 per cent of its electricity from (non-hydro power) renewable energy sources by 2050 to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, according to the study.

This would mean a massive 55-fold increase in the use of non-hydro renewables in electricity generation within the coming three decades, from only 160 Terawatt-hour (TWh) (10 per cent) in 2019, CEEW said in a statement.

Further, to achieve net-zero by 2050 the share of electricity in India’s industrial energy use must rise three-fold, from 20.3 per cent in 2018 to 70 per cent in 2050, the study – Peaking and Net-Zero for India’s Energy Sector CO2 Emissions: An Analytical Exposition – revealed.

The share of electric vehicles in passenger car sales will also have to rise to 76 per cent by 2050 from just 0.1 per cent in 2019, it added. These estimates are based on CEEW’s best understanding of progress on mitigation technologies.

To meet net-zero, India will need to either eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or balance these by sequestering GHG emissions.

The study is the first exercise to outline multiple pathways for India to attain net-zero emissions, rather than fixating on a single scenario or a single year.

It highlighted that India will need to reach peak emissions within this decade if it were to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century, a pace of transition, unlike anything the world has seen before. This will give India an extremely narrow window to ensure a smooth and equitable transition from a peaking year to a net-zero year.

Advanced economies, including China, Japan, the UK, and the US, will have taken at least 30, and at times well over 40 years for this transition. Advanced economies peaked emissions at much higher levels of development, slower rates of growth and would have had longer transition periods, it added.

“…We find that India would need to undergo a double transition, through faster electrification of sectors and an increasing share of renewables in power generation, if it were to announce an ambitious net-zero target,” Vaibhav Chaturvedi, Fellow at CEEW, and author of the study said.

Policymakers will also need to identify manufacturing sectors where electricity could replace fossil fuels. Reducing the cost of electricity to make it competitive would be equally critical, he added.

“Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060 would need rapid systemic changes across all sectors and sections of society. This, in turn, would require significant international financial investments and technological transfer from or technology co-development with the developed world,” Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW, said.

It will be equally important for India to closely examine trade-offs such as increasing cost of household electricity, increasing railways passenger fares, fiscal challenges for coal-dependent states, job losses for over half a million coal mining workers, and the shifting geopolitics around energy trade and the energy transition before announcing its net-zero targets, Ghosh added.

The CEEW study also explained why India’s case is different from the net-zero pathways of China, the EU, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

First, the per capita emissions for all other economies in their respective peaking years would be much higher than India’s, even if it were to peak in 2050.

Secondly, India’s real GDP growth rate would be much higher than any other country post their peaking years. This indicates that India would need to put in significantly more effort to peak and subsequently reduce emissions. Thirdly, India will have a much lower per capita income to support the transition, even if it began the post-peak transition in 2050, let alone 2030.

The study also found that if India were to peak in 2030 and reach net-zero in 2060 like China, its cumulative carbon emissions in 2021-2100 would be 80 GtCO2. For the same period, China and US’ cumulative carbon emissions, even after incorporating their net-zero ambition, would be 349 GtCO2 and 104 GtCO2, respectively.

According to the World Bank, India’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions stood at 1.82 tCO2 in 2016, much lower than the global average of 4.55 tCO2.

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