TAG: GS 3: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT
THE CONTEXT: With coal use set to be a key topic during the COP28 summit, India said it would continue to rely on coal for electricity generation for the foreseeable future, even as it rapidly expanded its renewable energy sources.
- India, despite its aspirations towards achieving net-zero emissions, remains reliant on coal for electricity generation due to several factors.
- The country’s energy demands have been escalating significantly, with a considerable surge in power requirements in recent years.
Rising Energy Demand:
- India’s power demand has shown an annual increase of about 8%, nearly twice the rate of the Asia Pacific region, reaching approximately 149.7 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2022.
- This surge in demand has been attributed to heightened economic activity, with industries, commercial sectors, residences, and agriculture being substantial consumers of energy.
Projections for Future Energy Needs:
- Projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that India will experience the most substantial growth in energy demand globally over the next three decades.
- The escalating demand is anticipated to be primarily driven by the increased requirement for electricity, particularly for household air conditioning, expected to multiply nine-fold by 2050, surpassing the total power consumption of Africa.
Increased Coal Production and Challenges with Renewables:
- India’s response to the mounting energy demand has been a substantial increase in coal production, rising from 778 million tons in 2021-22 to 893 million tons in 2022-23, and setting targets to further escalate production to meet growing needs.
- The country’s heavy reliance on coal is primarily due to limitations and challenges associated with renewable energy sources.
- Renewable Energy Constraints:
- Currently, renewable sources contribute only 22% of India’s total energy generation.
- Despite ambitious targets to source 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030, the actual contribution remains far below this goal.
- Reliability Concerns:
- Renewable sources like solar and wind are dependent on natural elements such as sunlight and wind, making them intermittent and less reliable for constant power generation.
- Additionally, grid-scale battery storage, necessary for ensuring continuous supply, faces challenges due to supply chain disruptions and high costs.
- Complexities of Hydropower:
- While hydropower is a significant renewable energy source for India, ongoing projects in the Himalayan region have faced criticism for ecological damage and water resource conflicts.
- Developing hydropower also requires substantial infrastructure improvements for reliability.
- Underutilization of Nuclear Power:
- Despite plans to generate energy from nuclear power plants, India’s nuclear capacity contributes only about 3.15% to the total electricity generation, suggesting underutilization and limitations in expansion.
Future Energy Strategy:
- India aspires to amplify its renewable energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030, three times the current capacity.
- However, given the challenges and constraints associated with renewable sources, the country will continue to rely significantly on coal-generated electricity.
- The Union Minister of Power and New and Renewable Energy emphasized that while India intends to decrease the share of fossil fuels in electricity generation to around 35% by 2030, the absolute capacity of coal may still rise to meet the escalating electricity demand.
- The country aims to implement a phase-down strategy for coal rather than an immediate phase-out, considering the imperative need to meet surging energy requirements.
- As India grapples with its increasing energy demand, the dilemma between pursuing cleaner energy sources and meeting immediate electricity needs through coal generation remains a significant challenge for the nation’s energy transition.