By Darshan Goswami, M.S., P.E.
India has tremendous energy needs and increasing difficulty in meeting those needs through traditional means of power generation. On July 30th and 31st, 2012, the world's largest blackout - The Great Indian Outage, stretching from New Delhi to Kolkata, occurred. This blackout, due to failure of the northern power grid, caused nearly 700 million people - twice the population of the United States – to be without electricity.
A grid failure of such magnitude has thrown light onto India's massive demand for electricity, together with its struggle to generate the power it needs. India is aiming to expand its power generation capacity by 44 percent over the next five years, but recent problems demonstrate the scale of the challenge. Even before the blackout in June of 2012, the country's power generation fell short by 5.8 percent when confronted with a peak-hour demand of 128GW, according to government data.
Electricity consumption in India has been increasing at one of the fastest rates in the world due to population growth and economic development. India’s economy faces increasing challenges because energy supply is struggling to keep pace with demand and there are energy shortages (as much as 15 percent daily) almost everywhere in the country. Such chronic lack of energy and unreliable supplies threaten India’s economic growth.
So, what can India do to meet the future energy demands and help eliminate wide-ranging power outages in the future? The government needs to assess how best to address the power needs to meet the future growth and prevent such massive power failures. India’s power blackout is an opportunity to develop sustainable energy solutions.
For economic as well as environmental reasons, India needs to shift to non-polluting renewable sources of energy to meet future demand for electricity. Renewable energy is the most attractive investment because it will provide long-term economic growth for India. A favorable renewable energy policy could create millions of new jobs and an economic stimulus of at least US$1 trillion, and perhaps much more if all indirect economic (ripple) effects are included.
Renewable energy also has the advantage of allowing decentralized distribution of energy – particularly for meeting rural energy needs, and thereby empowering people at the grassroots level. Solar electricity could also shift about 90 percent of daily trip mileage from petroleum to electricity by encouraging increased use of plug-in hybrid cars. For drivers in India, this means that the cost per mile could be reduced by a quarter in today's prices.
India does not have an overarching energy strategy - instead it has a number of disparate policies. To date, India has developed a cluster of energy business models and policies that have not been productive. These policies are definitely affecting renewable energy expansion plans. The present business model needs to be changed from a centralized to a decentralized structure that allows all stakeholders, including capital investment coming from state-owned investors, pension funds, and foreign countries.
This new business model should include the development of all forms of "distributed" (i.e. non-grid) energy such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass, biogas, and geothermal. Distributed energy not only reduces the huge amount of energy lost in grid distribution, it also helps lighten the load on the grid. Distributed energy is a critical part of the real energy revolution in achieving a cost-effective smart grid solution. All forms of distributed power, micro-generation and micro-grids should be incorporated into the electrical supply system to make the system more reliable. India is in a unique position to introduce clean energy solutions on an enormous scale to provide affordable energy for everyone – especially the poor.
India should take full advantage of this golden opportunity because renewable energy has particular relevance in remote and rural areas where there are around 289 million people who don't have access to reliable sources of energy. Solar energy is the most cost-effective option for India to reduce energy poverty without having to extend national grid services to provide power for individual homes and buildings.
India's present generation capacity is about 200,000 MW. The country could potentially increase grid-connected solar power generation capacity to over 200,000 MW and wind energy to over 100,000 MW by 2030 if the right resources (and more importantly, energy policies) were developed. India can develop massive commercial wind farms to harness the strong onshore coastal area and offshore wind to boost the country's supply of clean renewable energy. But, to tap this vast resource, India must develop and implement smart business models and favorable policies as quickly as possible.
Another opportunity for sparking investment in solar, is the U.S.-India Energy partnership program called SERIIUS (the Solar Energy Research Institute for India and the United States). This collaboration could lay the foundation for an energy independent future – one in which the Indian government takes advantage of the vast amounts of energy available from the Rajasthan Desert sun (instead of oil from the Arab nations) to power its future energy needs. In addition, renewable energy would not only create millions of jobs, but also sustain India's positive economic growth, help lift its massive population out of poverty, and combat climate change.
One step toward achieving this goal would be to start a nationwide solar initiative to facilitate large scale deployment of 100 million solar roofs and large utility-scale generation installations within the next 20 years. India could become a major player and international leader in the solar energy space.
Ten steps to harness renewable energy now
A renewable, energy-powered future is already here, not decades away. Newly built solar plants are already considerably cheaper than new nuclear plants per kilowatt hour of electricity produced, and solar energy will compete head on with conventional energy generation. In places such as California and Italy it has already reached so-called "grid parity."
India can ramp up its efforts to develop and implement large utility-scale solar and wind energy farms to meet the country's economic development goals, while creating energy independence and realizing potentially enormous environmental benefits. Both issues have a direct influence on national security and the health of the Indian economy.
India needs a radical transformation of its energy system to the use of renewable energy, especially solar and wind, to end the “India’s addiction to oil,” lift its massive population out of poverty and combat climate change. India can’t afford to delay renewable energy deployment to meet its future energy needs.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and are not intended to represent the views or policies of the United States Department of Energy. The article was not prepared as part of the writer's official duties at the United States Department of Energy.
Darshan Goswami has over 35 years of experience in the energy field. He is presently working for the United States Department of Energy (DOE) as a Project Manager in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. He retired as Chief of Energy Forecasting and Renewable Energy from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC. He is a registered Professional Electrical Engineer with a passion and commitment to promote, develop and deploy Renewable/Green Energy Resources and the Hydrogen Economy.