Strong energy policies could help establish India as a leader in renewable energy

With all the progress that India has made in renewables, the bigger picture isn't all that rosy.

In the fast-changing, warming world we live in, one of the most important areas of research and policy is clean energy.

India is among the leading economies — second only to Chile — that people have their eyes on to lead the switch to sustainable sources of energy.

That's according to a new report, the 2018 Climatescope, put together by the leading energy research giant, Bloomberg NEF.

Strong energy policies could help establish India as a leader in renewable energy

Modern wind turbines tower above cenotaphs built in memory of the maharajas of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. Image: Energy Vulture

Home to the world's largest renewables auctions

The ranking may not say very much on its own, but the jump from the fifth to the second spot on the list comes after dedicated efforts to increase the money spent, the number of clean energy installations around the country and playing host to the largest renewables auction market.

It helps that India has consistently brought down the dependence on coal to meet its energy needs. This played no small part in its shiny silver ranking in the Climatescope report.

Over 11 gigawatt (GW) in solar power projects were awarded to energy companies through auctions in 2017, the report says. As a result, 2017 was India's best year yet in boosting its solar capacity, when new installations jumped by 90 percent over the previous year.

The climb was a lot less steep in 2018 when renewables made up 71 GW of India's new energy capacity. This was a 68 percent jump over 2017, helped by new policies that are enabling the renewables sector. India is undeniably a potential leader in the space, according to multiple different experts, and home to the "most competitive auctions in the world" for renewable energy, as the report puts it.

That said, the bigger picture shows a not-so-rosy future for India's renewables market.

A picture from the 9th Renewable Energy India Expo 2015 Delhi.

A picture from the 9th Renewable Energy India Expo 2015 Delhi.

Unhelpful policies

Policies in some areas — a new safeguard duty on imported solar panels, for instance — have made energy companies in India uncertain about breaking new ground. This, according to a report by renewable energy consultancy firm Bridge to India, brought a sharp dip in new additions and installations in 2018.

The government imposed this duty to protect Indian energy companies from the steady competition coming from elsewhere in the world. Analysts have warned that despite having Indian interests in mind, the move will:

  • slow the growth of renewables in India
  • make it hard for India to reach its ambitious target for the National Solar Mission: to add 100 GW of solar power capacity by 2022

Not having a renewable energy policy will be what keeps India from making this target, the 'State of Renewable Energy in India 2019' report by a local think tank says.

Despite this challenge and others, India is on track to meet 76 percent of its 175 GW renewable energy target for 2022, solar analyst Rishab Shrestha from Wood Mackenzie told PTI.

Could India still be hungover on coal?

Could India still be hungover on coal?

Still a coal country

The demand for power has increased over the years at a phenomenal rate, and so has the supply.

However, outdated coal-fired power plants are rising to meet that demand with much more ease than renewables are, a report by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says. Coal companies in India are upping the ante and increasing imports of coal to survive in an industry under threat.

"We have increased India's imports for thermal coal from 158 million tonnes to 164 million tonnes in 2018... as coal stocks at Indian power plants and Coal India Ltd are at historically low levels," Pralabh Bhargava, a principal coal analyst at Wood Mackenzie told PTI.

India might be making great progress towards building its renewable energy capacity. But without a working renewable energy policy, the entire sector is at the mercy of bureaucrats, who have better things to worry about that climate change and the environment.

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