Solar to eclipse thermal power by 2030 in India's overall energy mix

The estimates come at a time when India is opening up its coal sector by inviting private companies to mine and sell coal in the open market
The technical arm of the Ministry of Power, Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in a latest report has estimated that solar-based power generation will surpass coal by 2030 in the overall energy mix of the country.

Basing its study on the proposed 175 gigawatt (Gw) of renewable capacity addition by 2022, CEA has indicated that the share of solar power will increase to 35 per cent by 2029-30 (FY30) — 10 years from now. However, the share of coal-based power generation is expected to decrease to 32 per cent. It currently stands at 53.5 per cent.

Calculations by CEA show that by FY30, non-fossil fuel (solar, wind, biomass, hydro and nuclear)-based installed capacity will be about 64 per cent of the total installed capacity, and will contribute around 44.7 per cent of the gross electricity generation. Renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and small hydro, cumulatively contribute 22 per cent in the total energy mix.

The estimates come at a time when India is opening up its coal sector by inviting private companies to mine and sell coal in the open market, envisaging growth in demand from the thermal power sector.

In an earlier report, CEA pegged India’s energy requirement to grow at a sluggish pace of 5.22 per cent between 2021 and 2027, at a gross domestic product growth rate of 8 per cent during same period.

“In view of incoherence between peak demand and renewable peak generation, hydro and flexible coal plants can provide essential support for grid stability. Therefore, there arises a need for detailed generation expansion planning studies for power scenario in 2030, where India can take the carbon-free growth path along with optimising generation from different sources in the most cost-effective manner,” CEA said in the report.

CEA, however, has provided a disclaimer with the report, saying it is not an official target for the country. “The study is an exercise to assess the least cost generation capacity mix to meet the projected electricity demand for FY30. The projected installed capacity shown in the report should not be in any way considered as target of the country,” it said.

CEA’s earlier estimates in 2017-18 for reduced dependence on coal and halt on thermal power growth in India faced heat from several stakeholders in the power sector.

In this latest report, CEA has said the maximum coal capacity required was found to be about 232 Gw and the average plant load factor (PLF) or operating ratio is estimated to be about 58 per cent in FY30. PLF of coal units in April stood at 42 per cent, against 63 per cent in 2019, mostly owing to low demand due to lockdown.

The report has taken into consideration significant capacity of pump storage and battery storage, which can store renewable energy, so that it’s available round the clock.

The installed capacity by the end of FY30 projected by CEA is 817 Gw, with 65 Gw of large and small hydropower projects, 266 Gw of coal, with 25 Gw of gas-based capacity, 280 Gw solar and 140 Gw wind power, with battery energy storage capacity to be 27 Gw/108 GWh.

“With this installed capacity, the intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) target set for India i.e., the percentage of non-fossil fuel capacity in the total installed capacity, is to be 40 per cent by 2030,” said CEA.

INDCs are commitments by countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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