New Delhi: Falling prices of renewable energy could accelerate India’s transition from polluting fuels such as coal, Union power minister Piyush Goyal said. However, India cannot ignore coal which is still cheaper since the government has to provide affordable power for all, he said.

Addressing industry leaders at the Future of Electricity conference organized by Mint and technology firm General Electric Co., Goyal said while India is committed to reducing carbon emissions, affordability of energy was one of the pillars of the future of electricity, along with sustainability and energy security.

Brushing aside concerns that solar power developers were bidding for projects at “aggressively low" power tariffs, Goyal said that based on price competitiveness and prevailing investor sentiments, the government could consider raising its own target of 175 gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022.

At present, the country has a renewable energy capacity of 42.8 GW, out of which more than half is from wind and the remaining from small hydropower, solar, biomass and waste-to-energy projects. Solar power generation capacity, which is at 6.7 GW now, is expected to touch 20 GW next year.

“If the renewable energy is not competitive and viable, the other option is to abort the programme. I am not going to purchase power at 7 per unit when we can have (coal-based) power at 3 a unit just because someone else (the developed world) has put all that green house gas in the air. Sorry; we are not ready to do that. I will run this programme till it is sustainable," said Goyal. The minister also took a dig at the developed world for not being serious in reducing “wasteful consumption" of electricity and in providing financing for clean energy technologies.

In the 14 April auctions held in Karnataka by state-run NTPC Ltd, projects were awarded at tariffs 10% above the lowest level discovered in January of 4.34 a unit when Finland’s Fortum Finnsurya won a 70 MW project in Rajasthan.

Goyal said India cannot wish away coal, which is abundantly available in the country, till technology to store power from clean sources become competitive enough to match fossil fuel-based power and renewable energy is seamlessly integrated into the grid. “The developed world brought development to their people using cheap fossil fuel," said Goyal.

“We have brought renewable energy tariff to a sustainable level. Now, we are very happy to expand. Next year, we will cross 20 GW in solar power capacity. I am already toying in my mind about raising the target of 100 GW of solar power capacity by 2022. It is certainly doable," said the minister.

His optimism stems from the fact that renewable power projects have achieved economies of scale and distribution companies are becoming financially healthier with the introduction of the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), a turnaround scheme announced by the government last November 5.

Goyal said the Indian electricity market is the biggest opportunity the world has on offer today as it is growing fast. “India offers the energy sector a huge opportunity as consumption goes up in the manufacturing and services sector and millions of more people get access to power. Power consumption is set to go up in the next 10-15 years from 1.1 trillion units today to 4 trillion units by 2030. Obviously, it means greater investments into the electricity sector. Use of home appliances and air conditioners is increasing," said Goyal.

The minister said that per capita consumption of electricity was coming down in the developed world as people move towards a more sustainable pattern of living to address the issue of climate change. Goyal is working on a proposal to offer the industry guaranteed uninterrupted power at 3.5 a unit for 10 years, in a bid to attract investments into manufacturing.

“You will have a huge business opportunity in an honest, corruption-free, transparent India where all participants have equal opportunity to grow and flourish," Goyal told industry leaders.