Beyond the sun & the wind: India’s CoP26 commitments

Along with renewables such as solar, India must focus on green construction, nuclear energy and hydel to meet its CoP26 commitments

More countries have agreed to Net Zero around mid-century.
More countries have agreed to Net Zero around mid-century.

By Vinayak Chatterjee& Abhilesh Babel
Now that COP26 is done and dusted, six key conclusions have emerged. All the pledges put together appear to have positively reduced the forecast of global warming of 2.5oC in year 2100 by possibly 0.3o. More countries have agreed to Net Zero around mid-century. There will be no abandoning of 1.5oC target.

There was significant traction on sectoral pledges—coal, cars, methane, and forests—and next year’s meeting at the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh will, once again, push the envelope. Finally, there was a clear acceptance of the need for more financial assistance to help poorer nations graduate from fossil fuels.India, the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US and the EU, made its own set of commitments.

It pledged to bring its economy’s carbon intensity down to 45% by 2030 and fulfill 50% of its energy requirement through renewable energy by 2030. India will reduce 1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions from the total projected emissions by 2030. It would achieve Net Zero status by 2070. It would increase its non-fossil energy capacity (read Renewables plus Nuclear plus Hydroelectricity) to 500 GW by 2030. Thus, nuclear and hydro necessarily emerge from the shadows.Now, India has to gear up to meet these commitments and go beyond coal, oil, sun and wind.

Three lesser, but important areas of change are yet to get full attention. They are construction, nuclear energy and hydro-electric power.Take construction. As per Carbon Brief, around 6-7% of CO2 emissions can be attributed to the steel and cement embedded in the construction of a building. If the global cement industry were reckoned as a country, then it would be the third largest emitter in the world, after China and USA. For a rapidly urbanising country like India, efforts need to be directed for “green” cement and steel production, by mandating the use of renewables, particularly hydrogen, in production processes. Hydrogen is not by itself a green source of energy, but an effective carrier of renewable energy that is used to produce “green” hydrogen.

So, rapidly bringing down green hydrogen costs is clearly a laudable national goal and worthy of government support. The Union government plans to implement the Green Hydrogen Consumption Obligation, similar to what was done with Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPO), along with, possibly, a production-linked-incentive (PLI) scheme for manufacturing electrolysers to produce green hydrogen.

The draft Electricity Rules 2021 have allowed green hydrogen purchase to meet RPOs. It is reliably understood that the Union government is expected to initiate a serious play in this area by calling bids for 4GW electrolyser capacity, to be ramped up to 20GW in the medium term.In buildings and public place, India has done a lot to mandate energy-efficient lighting. A similar approach is needed for air-conditioning. Annual cooling and heating loads can consume 1,000-1,200 KWhr in a typical home—thereby generating approximately 1 ton of CO2 per year if sourced from coal.

“District cooling” needs to be mandated for offices, institutions and condominiums; and the use of Variable Refrigerant Flow/Volume (VRF/VRV) in midsize residences above 2,500 sq ft should be incentivised. Current Green Building certifications are not ambitious enough in demanding use of greener materials. Moreover, rooftop solar needs far more “push” than currently being given, particularly in implementing “net metering” about which discoms display a lukewarm attitude.Another less-talked about area nowadays is nuclear power.

India cannot meet its Net Zero emissions targets without nuclear power, as per Anil Kakodkar, eminent nuclear physicist and former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. India has 23 reactors, with a total capacity of 7,480 MW, including the 700 MW KAPP-3 that was aligned to the grid in January 2021. In addition, plans are afoot to build a fleet of 10 units of 700 MW of Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors, which would add another 7,000 MW.

And, 8,000 MW of nuclear power plants are at various stages of construction, including the four Kundankulam units and the 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor. The government expects the country to have 22,480 MW by 2031. Hydro power is a good source for peaking requirements. It improves energy security, diversifies our energy mix, and is sustainable, safe, clean and reliable. Further, it provides multi-purpose benefits for irrigation and flood control, and over a 50-year life-cycle, provides cheap power.India stands fifth globally for installed hydroelectric power capacity. As of March 31, 2020, India’s installed utility-scale hydroelectric capacity was 46,000 MW whereas the country’s hydroelectric power potential is estimated at 148,700 MW. Hydropower’s share in electricity mix has, however, been unfortunately decreasing over the years, and now accounts for around 10% of generation.

Many current hydropower projects have seen slow movement on account of delays due to complex planning procedures, prolonged land acquisition and resettlement, a lack of enabling infrastructure including transmission, insufficient market scope and long-term financing. Environmental and religious issues have also contributed to the headwinds.Significant reforms made in recent years include the 2008 Hydro Power Policy encouraging private sector participation and the 2016 National Tariff Policy. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and ministry of power have also been actively monitoring and fast-tracking priority schemes, notably the 50,000 MW Hydroelectric Initiative.

The government formally recognized large hydropower as renewable in 2019. Draft policies under preparation are expected to support stalled hydropower projects and private sector uptake and could include measures to make hydropower tariffs more competitive.The quiver to meet the COP26-committed objectives holds many arrows. Construction, nuclear and hydro are important arrows to be aligned to shoot at their targets.

Chatterjee, an infrastructure sector expert, is chairman of CII’s National Council on Infrastructure, and Babel is CEO, Feedback InfraViews are personal

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