Rather than picking one source of energy over another, it is vital to recognise the role that different fuels can play at various stages.
By Ashok Sethi
Over the last few years, India has emerged as a leader, at the forefront of issues pertaining to climate change. While this has had significant impact on the international community, it has also changed the course of development within the country. Reiterating this further in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), India is committed to prove that there can indeed be a reconciliation between economic development and the state of the environment, as opposed to the rapid development of many countries in the past that came at the cost of the environment. As India stands on the threshold of a major transformation, adequate energy supply will be crucial. Continuous and effective supply of power is needed for the development of the country as it helps in sustaining economic activities. This is of utmost importance as India is making a transition from a coal-dependent economy to a renewable-focused economy. However, at the core of this transition is effective integration of renewables into the existing power grids.
At present, the total installed generation capacity in India is 330 gigawatt (GW), of which the installed capacity of renewable energy sources is 57 GW, according to the ministry of new and renewable energy. Since the Ninth Plan period, the share of renewable capacity has increased from 2% to 17% (i.e. about eight-fold increase). Moreover, renewables’ share is expected to reach 30% by 2022. It is imperative at this stage that the central government and state governments are in consensus and are willing to create some potential synergies and opportunities that are mutually beneficial. One major roadblock in India is the lack of a single central body that is responsible for energy policy and regulatory affairs, which results in inconsistencies for sub-sectors, i.e. coal, oil, wind, solar, electricity and gas. Thus, there is an urgent need to incentivise the overall fiscal and policy framework that will not just boost renewable energy production and consumption, but also helps in the right balance of fuel mix.
India needs to lower its carbon footprint and the government has taken a number of steps to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy. Renewables sector has witnessed reasonable growth in terms of demand over the last few years. However, this growth has been uneven, with the renewables sector growing by 24.46%, while natural gas has actually shrunk and fallen below the previous year’s consumption. In contrast, coal has grown by 5.34%. This further emphasises the requirement for a single central body for energy policy that encourages the right balance of fuel mix. Moreover, renewable energy in its current state has not been able to meet the peaking demands of energy. One of the major constraints of renewable energy is the reliability of energy supply. For instance, solar or wind energy is heavily dependent on weather conditions for its source of power. Such an intermittent and unpredictable supply of energy will not be able to meet the demand during peak hours. Another disadvantage of renewable energy is that it is difficult to generate power as large as that generated by traditional energy sources.
The answer here is not to pick one source of energy over another. Instead, it is vital to recognise the role that different fuels can play at various stages. For instance, pumped storage units can play a significant role as a flexible generation resource in meeting peaking power demand and maintaining system stability. When renewable energy generation levels are high, resulting in decrease in net load, these storage units can be put on pumping mode and vice-versa. This would also enable conventional generators to maintain constant base load, whereas the variations in net load due to renewable energy sources can be met by pumped storage units. For this, 56 sites were identified in the past, but economically acceptable dispatch is yet to be worked out. That said, pumped storage units can replace some of the thermal generation capacity. Additionally, these storage units have an advantage of fast ramp up and ramp down capabilities to meet the system demand.
Also, to integrate large-scale renewable generation at the grid level, there is a requirement for intrastate strengthening of grid network for absorption of power within the same area or host state. In addition to this, there is a need for Interstate Transmission System (ISTS) for transfer of power from renewable energy rich states to other states. The government’s Power for All scheme promises continuous and uninterrupted power to all households and industries by March 2019. This means that India is about to face substantial increase in energy demand in the next few years, which will translate into higher demand for electricity. The availability of continuous power helps in sustaining economic activities and generating employment opportunities for local people, which leads to better income generation. This will, in turn, lead to better education, health, connectivity and entertainment. It is critical to realise that integration of renewable energy is the key to driving the economy further.
COO & Executive Director, Tata Power