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Clean Energy in India

A brief his­to­ry of ener­gy The indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion in the late 18th cen­tu­ry was fuelled large­ly by coal. Since then, glob­al indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion has been accel­er­at­ed by the util­i­sa­tion of ener­gy extract­ed from coal, fos­sil fuels such as oil and nat­ur­al gas, and nuclear sources such as ura­ni­um. Oil, nat­ur­al gas, coal and ura­ni­um are rapid­ly being deplet­ed. Cur­rent sci­en­tif­ic esti­mates sug­gests that the remain­ing reserves of oil, nat­ur­al gas and ura­ni­um will be exhaust­ed with­in the next 50 years, and coal with­in 250 years. These resources took mil­lions of years to accu­mu­late. We are deplet­ing fos­sil fuels at a rate 100,000 times faster than they are being replen­ished, there­by mak­ing them non-renew­able. [1]

Since the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion, accel­er­at­ed emis­sions due to var­i­ous human activ­i­ties have been respon­si­ble for caus­ing glob­al warm­ing, acid rain and var­i­ous kinds of pol­lu­tion – of air, water and soil – and have become envi­ron­men­tal threats with crit­i­cal impacts on the plan­et’s cli­mate and its species. The sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that has estab­lished this truth is incon­tro­vert­ible, though the truth may be incon­ve­nient. [1]

Understanding these adverse impacts of conventional energy sources is critical for informing our choices around the future of energy production.

What is clean ener­gy? In 1976 ener­gy pol­i­cy ana­lyst Amory Lovins coined the term “soft ener­gy path” to describe an alter­na­tive future where ener­gy effi­cien­cy and appro­pri­ate renew­able ener­gy sources steadi­ly replace a cen­tral­ized ener­gy sys­tem based on fos­sil and nuclear fuels, which is the hard path.

Soft ener­gy paths involve effi­cient use of ener­gy, diver­si­ty of ener­gy pro­duc­tion meth­ods (matched in scale and qual­i­ty to end uses), and spe­cial reliance on co-gen­er­a­tion and “soft ener­gy tech­nolo­gies” such as solar ener­gy, wind ener­gy, bio­fu­els, geot­her­mal ener­gy, wave pow­er, tidal pow­er, etc. [2]

Soft ener­gy tech­nolo­gies (appro­pri­ate renew­ables) have five defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. They (1) rely on renew­able ener­gy resources (2) are diverse and designed for max­i­mum effec­tive­ness in par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances (3) are flex­i­ble and rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple to under­stand (4) are matched to end-use needs in terms of scale (5) are matched to end-use needs in terms of qual­i­ty [3][4]

The term ‘clean ener­gy’ there­fore, refers not only to renew­able ener­gy (RE) but also to ener­gy saved through ener­gy effi­cien­cy (EE) mea­sures. Ener­gy effi­cien­cy (EE) man­ages and restrains the increase in ener­gy con­sump­tion.

A system or process is more energy efficient if it delivers more services for the same energy input, or the same services for less energy input.

Is 100% renew­able ener­gy pos­si­ble? One may ask, why do we need ener­gy effi­cien­cy at all? Why can’t we aspire for 100% renew­able ener­gy – solar, wind, bio-ener­gy, wave and tidal pow­er replac­ing the con­ven­tion­al sources of ener­gy? As a vision and ide­al, we can aspire for such a future, as recent sci­en­tif­ic research con­firms such a pos­si­bil­i­ty. Accord­ing to Chris Field, found­ing direc­tor of Stan­ford’s Carnegie Depart­ment of Glob­al Ecol­o­gy, the land­scape has real­ly changed in terms of whether or not the world com­mu­ni­ty under­stands the tran­si­tion to 100 per­cent non-emit­ting ener­gy as some­thing we can accom­plish. The answer only a few years ago was maybe, and now the answer is clear­ly yes.

Field fur­ther explains that a sys­tem of 100 per­cent renew­ables is tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble, but it is too expen­sive and not cur­rent­ly afford­able. With an ambi­tious com­mit­ment to build­ing out the stor­age and load-bal­anc­ing and demand-bal­anc­ing com­po­nents, it is tech­ni­cal­ly fea­si­ble to build an ener­gy sys­tem with a high amount of renew­ables. [5]

The sup­port­ing infra­struc­ture required for tran­si­tion­ing to 100% renew­able ener­gy sys­tem There are chal­lenges in renew­able ener­gy sys­tems, such as vari­abil­i­ty in pow­er (solar pow­er dips after sun­set and wind pow­er dips when there are no winds), the prob­lem of ener­gy stor­age and high cost of instal­la­tion. For an econ­o­my to tran­si­tion into 100% renew­able ener­gy, the sup­port­ing infra­struc­ture to evac­u­ate pow­er from new renew­able ener­gy instal­la­tions must be in place. Pow­er evac­u­a­tion is a crit­i­cal func­tion that allows gen­er­at­ed pow­er to be imme­di­ate­ly evac­u­at­ed from the wind farm or solar farm to the grid for dis­tri­b­u­tion. New sub­sta­tions need to be con­struct­ed for evac­u­at­ing pow­er to the grid, because the gen­er­at­ed pow­er can­not be stored (in the absence of ener­gy stor­age tech­nol­o­gy); it must be trans­mit­ted from the place of gen­er­a­tion to the place where demand for pow­er ris­es. The grid infra­struc­ture must ensure nation­al con­nec­tiv­i­ty, for trans­mis­sion of renew­able pow­er between any part of the coun­try.

The governmental/political aspect is also very important and there needs to be clarity in renewable energy policy and its implementation, so that investors are encouraged to invest in renewable energy and sell their power to the grid


A blend­ed mod­el – mul­ti­ple approach­es in par­al­lel Shift­ing the total glob­al pri­ma­ry ener­gy sup­ply to renew­able sources requires a tran­si­tion of the ener­gy sys­tem. Ener­gy tran­si­tion is gen­er­al­ly defined as a long-term struc­tur­al change in ener­gy sys­tems. A total shift in regime is required – the under­ly­ing tech­no­log­i­cal, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic struc­tures of a nation will need to change rad­i­cal­ly – for ener­gy tran­si­tion to hap­pen.

Solv­ing the energy/global warm­ing prob­lem is regard­ed as the most impor­tant chal­lenge fac­ing humankind in the 21st cen­tu­ry. [6] Piece­meal mea­sures often have only lim­it­ed poten­tial, so a time­ly imple­men­ta­tion for the ener­gy tran­si­tion requires mul­ti­ple approach­es in par­al­lel. Ener­gy con­ser­va­tion and improve­ments in ener­gy effi­cien­cy thus play a major role. An exam­ple of an effec­tive ener­gy effi­cien­cy mea­sure is improved insu­la­tion for build­ings. Smart elec­tric meters can sched­ule ener­gy con­sump­tion for times when elec­tric­i­ty is avail­able inex­pen­sive­ly. [7]

A clean ener­gy econ­o­my pow­ered by both renew­able ener­gy (RE) and ener­gy effi­cien­cy (EE) is the most sus­tain­able ener­gy plan­ning sce­nario avail­able. [8]

Oppor­tu­ni­ties in India

Min­istry of New and Renew­able Ener­gy (MNRE) India was the first coun­try in the world to set up a min­istry of non-con­ven­tion­al ener­gy resources, in the ear­ly 1980s. Renew­able ener­gy in India comes under the purview of the Min­istry of New and Renew­able Ener­gy (MNRE). It is respon­si­ble for devel­op­ment and deploy­ment of new and renew­able ener­gy for sup­ple­ment­ing the ener­gy require­ments of the coun­try. Indi­a’s over­all installed capac­i­ty has reached 329 GW, with renew­ables account­ing for 58.3 GW, as of 30th June 2017 [9]. There­fore renew­able ener­gy con­tributes around 17.5% of total pow­er capac­i­ty in India. The installed capac­i­ty of wind pow­er is 32.5 GW and that of solar pow­er is 13 GW. Small hydel pow­er accounts for 4.3 GW and bio­mass pow­er accounts for 8 GW.


Indi­a’s renew­able ener­gy sec­tor is amongst the world’s most active play­ers in renew­able ener­gy uti­liza­tion, espe­cial­ly solar and wind elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion. India ranks 4th glob­al­ly in wind pow­er instal­la­tion.[10] Solar pow­er in India is a fast grow­ing indus­try. India quadru­pled its solar-gen­er­a­tion capac­i­ty from 2.6 GW in May 2014 to 13 GW in June 2017. The aver­age cur­rent price of solar elec­tric­i­ty has dropped to 18% below the aver­age price of its coal-fired coun­ter­part. [11]

India – a world leader in renew­able ener­gy The Gov­ern­ment of India, under Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, has set an ambi­tious tar­get to install 175 GW of renew­able pow­er by the year 2022, which will include 100 GW of solar pow­er, (with 40 GW from rooftop solar), 60 GW of wind pow­er, 10 GW of bio­mass pow­er and 5 GW of small hydro pow­er. [12] Such an ambi­tious tar­get would place India amongst the world lead­ers in renew­able ener­gy use and place India at the cen­tre of its Inter­na­tion­al Solar Alliance (ISA) project, pro­mot­ing the growth and devel­op­ment of solar pow­er inter­na­tion­al­ly to over 120 coun­tries.

Inter­na­tion­al Solar Alliance Our Prime Min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi ji, has giv­en a sig­nif­i­cant boost to the devel­op­ment of renew­able ener­gy in India. The Inter­na­tion­al Solar Alliance (ISA) is an alliance of more than 120 coun­tries, most of them being “sun­shine” coun­tries, which are locat­ed com­plete­ly or part­ly between the Trop­ic of Can­cer and the Trop­ic of Capri­corn. The alliance’s pri­ma­ry objec­tive is to work for effi­cient exploita­tion of solar ener­gy and there­by reduce the depen­dence on fos­sil fuels. This ini­tia­tive was first pro­posed by Modi ji in a speech in Novem­ber 2015 at Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um, in which he referred to sun­shine coun­tries as surya­pu­tra (“sons of the sun”). The alliance is a treaty-based inter­gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion. In Jan­u­ary 2016, Naren­dra Modi ji and French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande laid the foun­da­tion stone for the head­quar­ters of the Inter­na­tion­al Solar Alliance (ISA) in Gwal Pahari, Guru­gram. The ISA hopes that wider deploy­ment will reduce pro­duc­tion and devel­op­ment costs, thus facil­i­tat­ing the increased deploy­ment of solar tech­nolo­gies to poor and remote regions.

An excerpt from Mod­i’s speech at the launch of the ISA (Novem­ber 30, 2015) -

“Since ancient times, dif­fer­ent civ­i­liza­tions have giv­en a spe­cial place to Sun. In the Indi­an tra­di­tion, Sun is the source of all forms of ener­gy. As Rig Veda says, Sun God is the Soul of all beings, mov­ing and non-mov­ing. Many in India begin their day with a prayer to the Sun. Today, when the ener­gy sources and excess­es of our indus­tri­al age have put our plan­et in per­il, the world must turn to Sun to pow­er our future. As the devel­op­ing world lift bil­lions of peo­ple into pros­per­i­ty, our hope for a sus­tain­able plan­et rests on a bold glob­al ini­tia­tive. It will mean advanced coun­tries leav­ing enough car­bon space for devel­op­ing coun­tries to grow. That is nat­ur­al cli­mate jus­tice. It also means a growth path with lighter car­bon foot­print. So, con­ver­gence between econ­o­my, ecol­o­gy and ener­gy should define our future.

The vast major­i­ty of human­i­ty is blessed with gen­er­ous sun­light round the year. Yet, many are also with­out any source of pow­er. This is why this alliance is so impor­tant. We want to bring solar ener­gy into our lives and homes, by mak­ing it cheap­er, more reli­able and eas­i­er to con­nect to grid. We will col­lab­o­rate on research and inno­va­tion. We will share knowl­edge and exchange best prac­tices. We will coop­er­ate on train­ing and build­ing insti­tu­tions. We will dis­cuss reg­u­la­to­ry issues and pro­mote com­mon stan­dards. We will attract invest­ments in the solar sec­tor, encour­age joint ven­tures and devel­op inno­v­a­tive financ­ing mech­a­nisms. We will part­ner with oth­er inter­na­tion­al ini­tia­tives on renew­able ener­gy. There is already a rev­o­lu­tion in solar ener­gy. Tech­nol­o­gy is evolv­ing, costs are com­ing down and grid con­nec­tiv­i­ty is improv­ing. It is mak­ing the dream of uni­ver­sal access to clean ener­gy become more real.” [13]

Solar cities Naren­dra Modi ji has called for estab­lish­ment of mod­el solar cities where the pow­er needs are ful­filled sole­ly by solar ener­gy and he has giv­en thrust to man­u­fac­tur­ing of solar equip­ment, which will also help in gen­er­at­ing employ­ment and in deriv­ing max­i­mum ben­e­fit from the renew­able ener­gy dri­ve. [14]

Job oppor­tu­ni­ties Indi­a’s ambi­tious aim to install 160 GW of renew­able ener­gy by 2022 will need more than 300,000 full-time work­ers in these 5 years and there is poten­tial to cre­ate employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for around 1 mil­lion peo­ple. As much as 70 per­cent of the new work­force will be employed by the rooftop solar com­po­nent, cre­at­ing 7 times more jobs than large scale projects such as solar farms. [15]

India – the leader in cli­mate action and in renew­able mar­ket The recent months saw solar and wind tar­iffs falling to record low val­ues in the coun­try. The cost of wind pow­er in Tamil Nadu has fall­en to 3.42 per unit*, the low­est in the coun­try. [16] Tar­iffs for solar pow­er in Tamil Nadu touched as low as Rs 3.47 per unit in bid­dings for 1,500 MW solar plants. Solar pow­er tar­iff dropped to a his­toric low of Rs 2.44 per unit at the auc­tions for solar plants at Rajasthan’s Bhad­la. [17] This tar­iff is less than coal. The aver­age NTPC** coal plant tar­iff is Rs 3.20 per unit. [18] Solar has a brighter future now, even lit­er­al­ly speak­ing! The record low bids cer­tain­ly sig­nal a “green future” for India. India has over­tak­en the US to become the sec­ond-most attrac­tive coun­try after Chi­na for renew­able ener­gy invest­ment. [19] The World Bank has not­ed that with her con­scious choice to use sig­nif­i­cant­ly more clean ener­gy to fuel her growth, India is emerg­ing as a fron­trun­ner in the glob­al fight against cli­mate change, with solar pow­er is grad­u­al­ly dis­plac­ing coal as the ener­gy source. With a sweep­ing com­mit­ment to solar pow­er, inno­v­a­tive solu­tions and ener­gy effi­cien­cy ini­tia­tives to sup­ply its peo­ple with 24x7 elec­tric­i­ty by 2030, India is emerg­ing as a fron­trun­ner in the glob­al fight against cli­mate change.[20] Some years ago, peo­ple were talk­ing about “the future of India”. But now, the state­ment is “India is the future”!

*1 unit = 1 kilo­Watt-hour of elec­tri­cal ener­gy = 1 kWh. 1 kWh refers to 1 kilo­Watt or 1000 Watts of pow­er con­sumed in 1 hour. For exam­ple, if a bulb is rat­ed 100W (0.1 kW) and is switched on for 10 hours, it would con­sume 0.1 * 10 = 1 kWh of ener­gy, which is referred to as 1 unit of elec­tri­cal ener­gy.

** Nation­al Ther­mal Pow­er Cor­po­ra­tion, lim­it­ed, is an Indi­an Pub­lic Sec­tor Under­tak­ing, engaged in the busi­ness of elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion and allied activ­i­ties.


[1] Sajed Kamal, author of “The Renew­able Rev­o­lu­tion : How we can fight cli­mate change, pre­vent ener­gy wars, revi­tal­ize the econ­o­my and tran­si­tion to a sus­tain­able future”

[2] Amory Lovins (1977). Soft Ener­gy Paths, p. 54

[3] H. Nash (Ed.) (1979). The Ener­gy Con­tro­ver­sy: Soft Path Ques­tions and Answers, Friends of the Earth, San Fran­cis­co, CA, pp. 100–101.

[4] Amory Lovins (1977). Soft Ener­gy Paths, pp. 38–39


[6] Nico­la Armaroli, Vin­cen­zo Balzani, The Future of Ener­gy Sup­ply: Chal­lenges and Oppor­tu­ni­ties. In: Ange­wandte Chemie 46, (2007), 52–66, p. 52, doi:10.1002/anie.200602373.

[7] Ben Sills (Aug 29, 2011). “Solar May Pro­duce Most of World’s Pow­er by 2060, IEA Says”. Bloomberg.

[8] North Car­oli­na Sus­tain­able Ener­gy Asso­ci­a­tion

[9] “Phys­i­cal Progress (Achieve­ments)” (web). report. Min­istry of New and Renew­able Ener­gy, Govt. of India. Retrieved 29 July 2017. Web link :‑2/achievements/


[11] “Indi­a’s solar capac­i­ty to cross 20GW in next 15 months: Piyush Goy­al”. Eco­nom­ic Times. Retrieved 2017-04-06 Web link :




[15] Report by Coun­cil on Ener­gy, Envi­ron­ment and Water (CEEW) and Nat­ur­al Resources Defense Coun­cil (NRDC) — “Green­ing Indi­a’s Work­force : Gear­ing Up For Expan­sion of Solar and Wind Pow­er in India”, pub­lished June 2017






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