India continues to build out its renewables sector amid questions over its continued coal reliance, in addition to ramped-up pressure from western countries to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – the world’s third largest after China and the US.
That pressure took on new impetus this week as US President Joe Biden’s virtual global climate change summit got under way on Thursday and Friday.
The US, now re-emerging as a global climate change leader under Biden, is expected to pressure major polluters like China and India to do even more to reduce emissions, while sources in India have indicated that New Delhi would likely resist any pressure to become carbon neutral by 2050.
India’s latest renewables infrastructure build-out move came on Wednesday when Paris-based GE Renewable Energy (GERE), a division of US conglomerate General Electric, said it would supply 2.7-MW turbines for three Indian wind projects with a combined capacity of 110 MW under a multi-year framework deal with Mumbai-based CleanMax Enviro Energy Solutions.
GERE will deliver some 42 units of its 2.7-132 hardware for “onshore wind hybrid” projects in the western Indian states of Karnataka and Gujarat. The new wind parks will also meet the power consumption of various industrial companies, according to the GERE announcement.
Product design for the particular turbine model primarily takes place at the company’s technology center in Bengaluru, while blades are made in Vadodara and Bengaluru, with assembly usually in Pune.
"These wind farms will contribute significantly to India's commitment to harness the majority of its electricity from renewable sources meeting its target of 175 GW of renewable energy (with 60 GW coming from wind) by 2022," GERE added.
GERE, now a $15.7 billion company, combines one of the broadest portfolios in the renewable energy industry, including onshore and offshore wind, blades, hydro, storage, utility-scale solar, and grid solutions as well as hybrid renewables and digital services offerings.
Wednesday’s deal marks India’s ambition to increase its renewables sector as it still battles rampant air pollution levels. In September 2019, Indian prime minister Shri Narendra Modi announced that India's electricity mix would eventually include as much as 450 GW of renewable energy capacity.
The problem for India, however, is one faced by a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region whose economic growth has not only increased in recent years but is forecast to continue that upward trajectory for the rest of the decade and longer.
As such, they need to quickly ramp up electricity production in lockstep with economic growth, while also trying to reduce carbon emissions – no mean feat.
Many of these countries, in varying degrees, are playing a complicated cat-and-mouse game of increasing renewables (mostly wind and solar) but also having to rely on dirtier burning coal needed for power generation. Vietnam, the Philippines, and until recently Myanmar, are facing the same problems.
Coal still makes up a massive 70% of India’s electricity generation mix, with that amount likely to remain high due to the time and cost involved in replacing it with both natural gas and renewables power generation infrastructure.
Natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel, emits around 50% less CO2 than coal when used for power generation. However, in the EU and now in the US, natural gas is facing climate change headwinds since it’s still a hydrocarbon.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG), for its part, touted as a way for Asian countries to trim their emissions, is now being considered by many as just a transition fuel on the road to total renewables reliance.
In the Asia-Pacific region, however, that dynamic hasn’t reached the frenzied political pitch as elsewhere and likely won’t for a number of years due to both political factors and the prohibitive cost of replacing gas with green hydrogen.
This is already playing out in the region. In 2020, New Delhi announced that it wanted to become a natural gas-based economy, while increasing the use of the fuel from a current 6.2% of its energy mix to 15% by 2030. Concurrently, the same year much of Europe pulled back from even funding new LNG projects and infrastructure over climate change concerns.
However, going forward, India’s battle isn’t with gas, it still coal. It will not only have to shut down many of its coal-fired power plants but also consider blue and even green hydrogen as a replacement in addition to its maintaining its gas development plans.