India’s ambitions of boosting solar and wind power generation manifold by 2022 will face a transmission challenge, said Ibrahim Baylan, the Swedish minister for energy and policy coordination, who is on a visit to India. The challenge can be overcome by developing a smart grid, which he said is as important as boosting renewable power generation. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How have your meetings with the Indian government been?
I have had very good meetings. I have been meeting with industry and had the opportunity to meet minister (Piyush) Goyal. Well, I was quite optimistic before I came to India, but being here, I get more energy. I see a country going in the right direction. I am quite optimistic being here.
What have been the main points of discussion with the government, especially when India is so bullish on renewables?
It has been about renewables—that is natural because we see a tremendous positive development here with solar PVs (photovoltaics), wind, hydro, bio—but it is equally important for us to talk about the development of smart grids. Because to generate electricity or to produce energy is one thing and... then how you transmit it and how you use energy efficiently is equally important. To have this holistic view, in our experience, is very important. Otherwise, if you focus on just one end of the system, you can end up with huge costs on the other end.
We had a very interesting meeting with Mr Goyal. We discussed the pilot project that we are involved in the Andaman islands where you are trying to substitute diesel generators with renewables and a smart grid. We have also invited the minister to come to Sweden to show what we have been doing from the last 30 years.
Sweden is one of the countries to successfully harvest geothermal energy; India has also come out with a policy on it. Any talks for cooperation on clean energy?
In the ’70s, we decided to become independent of foreign oil. At that time, our plants were basically using oil—100%. Today, we are down to 4-5% maybe at most and mostly coal. I think, in three years, we are becoming 100% renewable. One of the reasons is that we have found ways to use waste—from the households, from our pulp and paper industry. I think those technologies and those experiences are also available. I think that is also an important area. We are now importing waste from Norway and Italy. I think the landfills in Sweden are down to 0.5%... that is, of course, a boost not just energy-wise and climate-wise but also a boost for our population’s health.
We discussed both generation and energy efficiency. We discussed smart grids. Because when you have very ambitious targets for renewable—175GW in a few years—it will also create challenges. I think it is an admirable ambition to make it possible for India’s millions who don’t have access to energy. But it will also create challenges in the transmission system, and smart grids could be a solution. That is why we are now having a pilot in the Andamans to show how it is possible.
Were there any talks on exploring offshore wind energy potential as India has a long coastline?
Onshore wind is becoming cheaper and cheaper. For us, today the cheapest way of producing electricity is large-scale hydro and then No. 2 is onshore wind. But if you look at offshore wind, you have to double that cost... I think we are in a situation where we will mostly have onshore wind because it so much cheaper. In the long run, I think that will be a natural development for a lot of countries.
India has also seen concerns being expressed about marine biodiversity getting affected by onshore wind.
You will always have environmental impacts. If you invest in hydro, bio, wind, solar you will have that. The trick is to minimize that. Not Sweden, but our neighbouring countries like Denmark, Netherland, Belgium and soon have been investing in offshore for quite some time. There are, of course, measures to be taken to minimize that. I don’t think environment will be the largest reason (for not choosing offshore wind). I think the largest reason still is the cost. It is still very, very expansive compared to onshore wind and compared with solar. Solar is continuing to come down and with storage capacity, whose cost is also coming down, it makes a very powerful combination.
Do you see an overall increase in cooperation in power sector, especially when India is looking at achieving over 800,000MW of power in next 15-20 years?
I think that is necessary. We have lots of experience—both good ones and may be not good ones. By cooperating we could also leapfrog especially when you have knowledge sharing.
But there has been lot of disagreements over finance and technology transfer. How do you address that?
I think we also need to have some kind of knowledge sharing because it is a common challenge. If we don’t meet this challenge, it will be a catastrophe for all of us. From my point of view, we are prepared both to contribute more and as we do—we are the largest contributors to the UN green fund and we will continue to be—I think also be contributing and knowledge sharing I think that will also make it possible to leapfrog for countries with evolving energy systems. I think that way we will all benefit both economically but also I think environmentally. Because, form my point of view, that transformation is a huge opportunity. There are burden and costs, but there are huge opportunities. One is that it enhances quality of life for our population. Clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
So, do you see more movement on investment in India in the next couple of years?
I am pretty sure that there will be more investments. I am pretty sure that we will have more cooperation and more bilateral trade. We will also see more Indian companies present in Sweden, especially high-tech companies. I am pretty optimistic.