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IEA discusses the route to a low-carbon India

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World Cement,

In a focus section on India, the IEA publication Energy Technology Perspectives 2014 (ETP 2014) offers both analysis and guidance aimed at helping the country meet its long-term energy goals. Access to electricity is crucial to India’s economic growth and development. A priority for the country is raising per capita consumption and providing modern energy to the nearly one-quarter of the population who currently lack it. In 2011, per capita electricity consumption was 673 kWh, less than one-quarter of the global average, even as generation capacity grew by a factor of five in the two decades to 2011. To satisfy increasing demand, ETP 2014 recommends that India substantially expand its power generation capacity using all available options, not only the country’s extensive coal and moderate natural gas reserves, but also its waterways, with their high potential for hydropower, and its abundant other opportunities for renewable energy based on wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

However, India faces significant challenges in expanding power generation capacity. Its energy resources are unevenly dispersed (geographically) and they are often located far from consumption centres. Large-scale hydropower is a significant resource in some parts of the country, but in 2011 it provided only 12% of electricity nationally, with all other renewable sources contributing 5%. Coal was, and remains to be, the main source of power generation, at 68%, and is a large part of the reason India emits 1.9 Gt per year of carbon dioxide, 5.6% of the world’s total.

Achieving a lower-carbon energy sector

India’s current 12th Five Year Plan, which runs through March 2017, calls for generation from renewables to more than double, from 25 GW to 55 GW. Achieving five-year targets is challenging; however, progress is promising, and new policies implemented in India are beginning to have a positive impact.

In its ETP series, the IEA undertakes analyses of cost-effective, low-carbon strategies. The ETP suggests two scenarios: one that sets the world on a path towards a temperature increase of 2 °C (the 2DS scenario) and one that increases the temperature by 4 °C (the 4DS scenario). In ETP 2014, the IEA refined it’s modelling of India to offer possible scenarios that meet Indian policy objectives and are also consistent with low-cost decarbonisation on a global scale. The 2DS sets an ambitious target for India, with generation increasing four-fold by 2050, even as the contribution from fossil fuels falls from 80% today to 25%. Renewables are projected to generate 40% of electricity, while the share from coal plummets to less than 20%. While the 4DS also projects a four-fold increase in generation to 2050, the contribution from fossil fuels remains high, at around 65%.

Renewable energy is the key to achieving either scenario. For example, wind power has exceeded recent Five Year Plan targets, and this rate of growth would need to be sustained to meet the 2DS or even the 4DS. While industry analysts say it is achievable under a combination of favourable conditions, including enhanced policy design and the implementation and acceleration of grid development, ETP 2014 warns that increased growth for wind hinges on a stable policy environment, commensurate grid capacity expansion and interconnection, and progressive reduction of financing costs.

Solar programmes will be central to achieving low-carbon growth in the Indian power sector, as well as universal access to energy. The central government actively encourages rooftop solar, and states are developing net-metering frameworks. Concentrated solar power (CSP) is a promising technology for India, and despite some setbacks and challenges, the IEA expects India to deploy around 600 MW of CSP before 2018, which would represent significant growth on the global scale. Biomass is fairly available in India. Substantial biomass power remains untapped but the short supply of land for tree-based farming or energy crops, coupled with India’s land allocation policies, limits its potential. Tree-based farming on the peripheries of farms or off-season cultivation of short-cycle energy crops could provide opportunities. Finally, expanding nuclear capacity is essential for India to achieve either scenario. The 2DS projects nuclear power to rise to 5% of the total by 2025 and 15% by 2050 from 3% in 2011.

Coal-fired power generation

In general, India’s coal-fired power plants are less efficient than those in China. India’s coal quality is poorer and average ambient temperatures in the country are higher, which can decrease efficiency. Washing coal to remove ash and other impurities would help reduce emissions arising from combustion and transporting less energy-dense coal would reduce costs.

India’s new plants are still relatively inefficient and account for more than 60% of subcritical units under construction around the world. However, policies in place to phase out the construction of subcritical units by April 2017 and to encourage construction of more efficient technology will help bring the average efficiency of the coal-fired fleet more in line with international standards.

The low-carbon outlook

The IEA’s ETP 2014 concludes that to continue its current trajectory of economic growth, to provide electricity to all and to support increased per capita energy consumption and access to energy services, India must continue to expand all aspects of its power infrastructure, from fuel supply through generation to transmission and distribution. Opportunities for policy action include:

  • Reviewing the practice of providing free or heavily subsidised electricity, which can lead to wasteful use of energy.
  • Setting electricity tariffs at levels that prompt utilities to improve the performance of power plants while also allowing for reasonable profits on generation.
  • Implementing co-generation technologies to further improve efficiency while making use of waste heat in industrial sectors.

Adapted from IEA press release by Rosalie Starling

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