COP 26 – Revised NDCs: Has India over-committed?

November 12, 2021 6:00 AM

On targeted addition of renewables capacity by 2030, PLI for solar will be able to meet only a fraction of the needs. India must factor in high imports, especially from China

India will raise its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030.India will raise its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030. (Representative image)

By Deepak Gupta & Kolluru Krishan

In an article in this newspaper on November 1, one of us had asked whether COP 26 would be a turning point. It has indeed been, in an unexpected way. India has laid claim on climate leadership by being the only large emerging economy to respond to the call for increased ambitions, announcing revised NDCs which requiring deep decarbonisation. The less than dramatic announcements by the US, EU and UK, in spite of the evident sincerity of Biden and Johnson, and the noticeable absence of the heads of state of China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, have given India the centrestage. PM Narendra Modi made the best of this opportunity by announcing a Net Zero (NZ) target year of 2070 and giving a clarion call for the world to adopt “LIFE” (Lifestyles for Environment). India played the leadership role in ISA’s OSOWOG (One Sun, One World, One Grid) initiative. India also joined 45 nations pledge “to step up protection of nature and overhaul farming to cut GHG emissions”. These pledges and initiatives moved India from being a presumed outlier to climate-action leader!

While felicitating astute political leadership, it is good to introspect on techno-economic feasibility and social impact. The key question then is whether India has over-committed or simply made aspirational targets to galvanise global climate action, isolate China, and dare developed economies to actually provide the promised finance and technology transfer. The PM has called for $1 trillion in funding as well as technology transfer, as precursors for Indian NDCs. It is prudent to briefly examine the five NDCs of increased ambition and flag lacuna, if any.

The NZ target is long-term and timeline of 2070 is reasonable. This was recommended in the earlier article. We could have no longer avoided an NZ commitment (our national interest considered apart from global), and 2070 offers adequate time for transition, through anticipated evolution in clean tech and green business solutions. This allows for peaking year to be 2040, from when Indian emissions should start declining. The challenges will relate to four pledges made with the 2030 deadline in mind.

First, India will raise its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030. This target evidently includes hydro and nuclear, and, hence, is actually no scale-up over the earlier-announced target of 450 GW RE power by 2030. However, concerns remain on new capacity addition over the next eight years—350 GW RE + nuclear, from the current 147 GW. Significant solar-capacity addition is forecast (30 GW annually), an exponential scale up. Currently, we have very high import dependence for solar wafers, cells, invertors, glass, etc, and that too mostly from China. The PLI scheme will, at best, cover 10 GW and take 3-4 years for commercial operations to stabilise. Hence, while it is imperative to scale up local manufacturing, we need to factor in high imports for meeting targeted solar power capacity addition by 2030.

Second, India targets to meet 50% of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030. This is possibly a translation error and must mean electric power. However, even for electricity, RE supply at 50% will face challenges due to relatively low CUF of solar and wind power, which will constitute close to 90% of the 500 GW non-fossil energy capacity and more addition of thermal capacity in coming years. Furthermore, the grid will not be able to absorb such levels of variable RE power, without tens of GW of energy storage, which will involve great cost, apart from doubtful availability for large scale deployment within 2030. Finally, RE supply would far outstrip power demand at different “Time of Day” slots, requiring further backing down of thermal power plants. Already, the PLF of thermal power plants is at unviable lows of 44.68% for state-owned and 54.27% for IPPs, which impacts plant efficiency and, consequently, their GHG emissions, apart from supply reliability. The discoms will simply not be able to buy large volumes of variable RE power.

Third, 45% reduction in carbon intensity of GDP over the base year of 2005, up from 33-35% committed in Paris, is presumably an extrapolation of reductions in GHG emissions from schemes like PAT, Ujala, Ujjwal, SATAT, KUSUM, E20, FAME, and from new pledges such as the Railways achieving NZ by 2030, 500 GW RE, etc. The arithmetic needs to be converted to actionable plans. Furthermore, it will require deep decarbonisation in hard-to-abate industrial sectors (cement, steel, aluminum, copper), which provide critical inputs for RE power plants. Moreover, rapid transformation could cause major disruptions, impacting industries and their workforce; this requires attention.

Fourth, it is not clear against what baseline the reduction in projected GHG emissions by 1 billion tons CO2 has been committed to. Such quantitative reduction will be an outcome of 45% reduction in carbon intensity of GDP, but will require significant funding support and technology transfer and, therefore, appropriate qualifications must be made.

The time for announcements has come and gone. Let these be aspirational goals that seek to give direction to policy. We now require a comprehensive and step-by-step, time-bound plan for every sector (and sub-sector) to be widely discussed in the public domain with dynamic but doable targets for each action over each year, even as we prepare for the looming transformational change.

Gupta is former secretary, MNRE, and former chairperson, UPSC, and Krishan is chairman, CVC India Infrastructure

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