29 Mar 2019 21:12 IST

Renewable power generation is all charged up

Capacity has almost doubled in five years but better distribution infrastructure is critical

India’s renewable power generation has grown by leaps and bounds over the past six years. Keeping with the Centre’s target of installing 175 GW (1GW = 1,000 MW) of renewable power capacity by 2022, installed capacity has nearly doubled in the last five years. As of January 31, 2019, renewable energy capacity stands at 75GW.

Although nearly 80 per cent of India’s installed power capacity is from non-renewable sources such as thermal, hydro and nuclear, the contribution of renewable power has gone up to a little over 21 per cent now from around 14 per cent in FY15. The main thrust behind this ramp-up is India’s global commitment to the world in 2015 to bring down its carbon emissions by 2030.

Wind and Hydro

Of the total target of 175 GW, the Centre has set individual targets for solar, wind, bio-energy and small hydro power. Solar is expected to contribute 100GW and wind 60GW, and the rest will come from small hydro, and bio-energy. Small hydro and bio-energy are nearing their 15GW target and, at the end of January, the installed capacity stood at 13.7GW, according to data from the Central Electricity Authority.

Solar and wind, however, have a long way to go to scale the 2022 target. At the end of January, solar power capacity was at a little over 26GW and wind at 35GW. But the speed at which solar power capacity has been ramped up is noteworthy. Sample this, at the end of FY15, India’s installed solar power capacity was around 3.7GW. This has now risen nearly seven times till January 2019. The installed wind power capacity rose 51per cent in the same period.

The falling tariffs of wind and solar power to below that of thermal power over the last couple of years at government held auctions has helped spur growth. But that led to many States preferring renewable power over thermal power. This might be desirable but has hit thermal power producers hard.

Falling tariffs

The plant load factor (measures actual capacity used vs installed capacity) of thermal power plants in India is 54.3 per cent for FY19 till date. A year ago, then Power Minister Piyush Goyal had pushed companies to increase the plant load factor from 60 per cent levels. Instead, it has only trended lower.

Thermal power’s high cost has dissuaded State power distribution companies (discoms) from sourcing power from them. The precarious financial position of discoms, despite the Centre’s efforts to lend a helping hand, has also fuelled the new-found love for renewable power.

The falling tariffs and changing preferences of State discoms have led to other problems too.

Road to perdition

Many wind power projects have missed their commissioning deadlines. The Centre advanced its initial deadline of 2022 to 2020, and now the target is to have a capacity of nearly 200GW. This has led to many projects being bid out at rock bottom tariffs. And this has tilted many States towards renewable energy.

In an ideal world, that would be a good problem to have. But evacuating all the power generated from solar and wind into the national grid is a humungous task. Over 60 GW of transmission projects are expected to be bid out by the Centre over the next couple of years, to make sure there is adequate transmission capacity for the newer projects. Inadequate transmission capacity and lack of availability of land for both solar and wind projects have also led to delays in commissioning of projects already bid out.

Seeing the breakneck speed at which India is hurtling towards achieving the target of renewable power capacity, making sure that there is adequate infrastructure to distribute the electricity generated will determine the true success of the clean energy programmes.