20 March 2017 10:10:52 IST

Sweet seventeen

2017 seems to be off to a great start, in terms of clean energy expansion

In my first piece for this column in 2017 , I had an occasion to suggest that the year would turn out to be a happy one. It indeed has, though for more reasons then envisaged. A number of developments have taken place this year that will make you go ‘wow’.

Shining bright

First, there was the data which revealed that renewable energy capacity in the country had crossed the 50,000 MW watermark, in January. Remember, this is just wind and solar, and a little bit of biomass, and it does not include dams, which bring in another 50,000 MW. Not bad, India already has a third of its total capacity as non-fossil fuels. Not many countries can boast of this.

Then they said solar power capacity in the country crossed the 10,000 MW mark (part of the 50,000 stated above). Now, this is absolutely wow, considering that just barely five years back, some of us wrote news stories saying India had achieved a milestone of 1,000 MW of solar. Ten times in five years! And, guess what? We are still counting. The next 10,000 may take just a couple of years. Today, India is the third or the fourth biggest solar market in the world, behind US, EU and China.

A clear win

Then in February, two separate auctions of capacity were held — one for 750 MW of solar, and another for 1,000 MW of wind. The auction process goes like this: the auctioneer, in these cases a government company, says, ‘Hey guys! I want to buy electricity, and I will buy from whosoever gives me the cheapest rates’. Energy companies then do all they can to out-bid each other. Some drop out of the race and the last men standing get to sign long-term contracts to sell electricity at the rates they quoted.

While this is nothing new, the February incident was the sort that would merit a diary entry! Prices of energy fell to unprecedented levels. Solar companies agreed to sell power for ₹3.30 a kWh. Only five years back, the prices used to be more than twice. Wind companies agreed to sell at ₹3.46.

The message from February is this: renewable energy prices have fallen so drastically — and are likely to remain there — that they can now fight the dirty energy produced by coal and oil out of the market. A victory over fossil fuels is in sight, bright and clear.

In addition to all this, the government said it had set aside a whopping ₹8,800 crore to help lower the costs of one segment of clean power whose prices are yet to fall — that of solar plants that people set on the roofs. Because of the small size (and a few other issues) ‘rooftop solar’ has not been growing at the jaunty clip that we would like it to. But with the government now chipping in with funds, you can expect good news from this quarter in these columns, hopefully soon.

Clean breeze

While all this has been happening in India, there has been a zephyr from overseas too. The International Atomic Energy said that for the third year straight, carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have stayed flat. The agency was assessing 2016, and it seems like clean energy is replacing the dirty faster than we had earlier supposed.

In the US, the world’s largest economy, carbon dioxide emissions fell 3 per cent — or by 160 million tonnes, said the Agency — even as the US economy grew by 1.6 per cent. Coal demand was down 11 per cent in the US in 2016, and for the first time ever, electricity generation from natural gas was higher than from coal in the country.

China, whose economy expanded 6.7 per cent in 2016, saw demand for coal fall by 1 per cent. An increase in renewables has been cited as the prime reason.

The bottom line is this: 2017 has begun on a pretty good note. A lot more work lies ahead, for the war against climate change is not easy, but what the heck! A good beginning is a good beginning.