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Today, India is a global powerhouse of renewable energy. Despite the covid pandemic, steady growth has helped us cross the 100 gigawatt (GW) target of installed capacity (excluding large hydro projects). This is a momentous achievement for India as well as the world, as it helps bring our carbon emissions down (we are currently the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide), speeds up our journey towards fulfilling our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement, and most importantly, enhances energy security for Indian citizens.

Reaching the 100GW milestone has involved dedicated efforts by India’s renewable energy sector and the government. India had set up the ministry of non-conventional energy sources in 1992 and renamed it ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) in 2006, laying a foundation for the renewables-led growth of our energy sector. The very first sign of India’s emergence on the global energy map was the setting up of the International Solar Alliance on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Conference by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His resolve to see India emerge as a leader in this space became even more evident when he further set an ambitious target of achieving 450GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. There is no looking back.

In the past 10 years or so, renewables have seen rapid growth in our energy ecosystem, with wind energy leading the way, followed by solar. Estimates suggest India has over 1,050GW of renewables potential in wind and solar power alone, with wind potential at 300GW and solar at 750GW. The decision to realize this potential got a major boost in 2014 when the current government took office. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government immediately set up ambitious targets for the industry to follow (175GW capacity potential by 2022, later revised to 450GW by 2030). This was led by several policy reforms, such as transparent bidding, waiving of inter-state transmission system charges and losses for the inter-state sale of solar and wind power for projects, and creating renewable purchase obligations, which made it mandatory for distribution companies to buy a share of power from renewable sources, apart from granting ‘must-run’ status to renewable energy projects, crafting liquidity packages for distribution companies and other specific policies such as the Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthan Mahabhiyan, aimed at ensuring energy security for farmers. The sector has also gained from large investments. In the past seven years, as much as 5.2 trillion has been invested in renewable energy.

Regular policy interventions by the government, financial and other incentives, an investment push and fiscal stimuli over the years have helped India emerge as a global front runner in the clean energy ecosystem. Today, we stand fourth in the world in terms of installed renewables capacity (fifth in solar and fourth in wind). With another 50GW of installation underway and 27GW under tendering, our rank will improve.

A significant driver of this growth has been sectoral technology, which has brought the cost of renewables down sharply over the years, making them a go-to energy resource. Newer means of power generation (such as floating solar and offshore wind projects) have been introduced, storage-based systems to provide round-the-clock energy are coming into play, and efforts to digitize our power grid are underway. As we continue to increase capacity, technology will play a major role in solving the problem of intermittency, which is unique to renewables, through better storage. Battery costs have been falling consistently. In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack cost $1,200 per kWh. Today, it costs around $120 and Bloomberg estimates that it will fall by 8% every year to reach $60 by 2030. New renewable capacity, coupled with storage, can ensure 100% renewable energy generation for stable power to the grid.

In India, ReNew Power currently has a project under development that envisages the use of wind, solar and batteries for the stable supply of renewable energy.

The rise of renewables offers plenty of opportunities. Scaling up towards the 2030 target presents many avenues for development, given the scale of our market, our relative under-penetration of power on a per capita basis, and the relative maturity of the sector in India. We should try to foster the development of an end-to-end clean energy ecosystem so that India can become a global champion. We have already taken several steps to encourage the development of our solar manufacturing industry by creating demand and providing supportive policies. This same playbook can be adopted across other enabling industries, such as wind equipment-making and electrolyzer and fuel-cell manufacturing. Investments in these will also create jobs, given their requirement of skilled labour. According to the International Labour Organization, around 330,000 new jobs could be created in the renewables sector by 2022 and more than 24 million new jobs by 2030.

Achieving 100GW of renewable capacity has been a major step towards India’s goal of championing a necessary energy transition. As we step up our pursuit of clean energy, I hope to see us achieve many such capacity milestones in the years ahead.

Sumant Sinha is founder, chairman and managing director of ReNew Power

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