The Place of Renewables in India’s Future Power Grid

Indian power sector, one of the largest in the world, comprises one synchronised national grid that serves the entire nation. In the last decade, the transmission system has expanded from 2.4 L circuit kilometres in 2011 to 4.4 L circuit kilometres in 2021, with inter-regional transfer capacity growing to 105 GW. A recent energy event threw light on what the future of such a sprawling and essential system might hold in store, considering the on-going rapid renewables revolution.

With the total installed capacity being 383 GW, India’s energy mix currently looks like this: Fossil fuels (235 GW), hydro (46 GW), nuclear (7 GW), and renewables (95 GW). A decade ago, renewable energy sources produced less than 20 GW and had an 11% share in the country’s generation capacity. This amount has grown fivefold in recent time, with RE’s current share in generation capacity being 25% share.

However, alongside renewables, conventional fossil fuel generation has also grown steadily, nearly doubling in size, due to factors like the delicensing of generation, liberal flow of capital, development of short term power markets, etc.

In order to achieve our ambitious climate goals pertaining to a clean energy transition, India’s transmission system will have to shift reliance away from fossil fuels over time and accommodate advancements being made in the green energy industry.

K Sreekant, Chairman & Managing Director, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, believes that our goal must be to develop a future power grid that ensures universal access — uninterrupted, 24/7 power supply to all consumers throughout the length and breadth of the nation. Since oil and gas reserves are already proving inadequate to meet future needs, developing the economy, efficiency and security of green power is crucial for supplying electricity to residential and commercial customers in the long run.

Mr Sreekant draws the following broad contours of upcoming changes in the next decade to imagine the power grid of tomorrow: First, dominance of RE resources: The government’s clean energy transition agenda aims to reduce fossil reliance through both distributed systems and large scale RE parks. Future power grids will have to accommodate renewable energy plants, such as the 10 GW solar park envisioned at Leh, or the 30 GW project planned for Gujarat, alongside rooftop in houses and factories.

Second, new and disruptive technology is breaking electricity into other kinds of energies, thereby solving the problem of lack of mechanisms to store electricity. Such advancements in storage networks will modernise conventional network planning methods so that storage can serve different purposes. The future power grids are likely to blur the lines between generation, transmission, and distribution, which would require appropriate regulatory regimes, making grid operations efficient and bringing in savings.

Third, according to Mr Sreekant, the growing electrification of the economy will drive the grid’s growth. Currently, the per capita consumption of electricity is 1200 units in India and the share of electricity in the total energy pie is 17%. Measures like the government’s ‘Go Electric’ campaign for e-mobility, e-cooking, etc., are expected to raise this share to 26% by 2040. Further, initiatives like ‘One Sun, One World, One Grid’ is expected to strengthen the move towards cross border interconnections.

The grid of tomorrow will integrate a slew of technological advancements in renewable generation, battery and other storage systems, new energy sources like grid hydrogen, communication and data analytics, says Mr Sreekant. What he left unsaid was, will our grids be up to the challenge of upgrades? Or will it be the usual route of crisis, grid collapse and more that will ensure that investments into hardening and improving the grid keep pace?

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.

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