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Govt of India's additional renewal energy push 'not consistent' with demand growth

By Shankar Sharma* 

This has reference to my earlier observation on the subject of Amendments to Electricity Rules 2020. Two recent news reports, Government issues 8-point plan to ensure power supply amid record demand and India would need 74 GW energy storage capacity for RE integration by 2032, can be said to draw our attention to the overall effectiveness/ ineffectiveness of our power sector policies.
Whereas there is nothing new or novel about the 8-point plan issued by the govt. to ensure power supply amid record demand, what is noteworthy is that there seems no course corrections much needed to the policies and practices in the power sector, especially when we consider the fact that scenarios such as high grid demand and increasing deficits have been occurring almost every year since last many years.
It is impossible to notice the implementation of any consistent and sustainable set of action points to bridge the gap between demand and supply at a least overall cost to the society. 
 Whereas, there have never been any clear indications to reduce/ contain/ manage the grid demand, various policies of the government while focusing on increased GDP growth rate, are only leading to increase the overall grid demand year after year without any indication of flattening demand or even reducing the overall demand.
Since the addition of RE capacity is not consistent with the growth in demand, there has been an abhorable practice of pouring in enormous amounts of our resources in increasing the capacity of conventional technology power generating capacity such as coal, nuclear and dam-based hydro power technologies. 
 The 8-point plan issued by the government even seems to be asking the states not to retire old and inefficient coal power plants with devastating effects on local air pollution and on the overall GHG burden of the country. One cannot see any cohesive plan to adequately reduce the GHG in the power sector, and the associated consequences to our people.
The recent development that G20 group of countries have vowed on a three-fold green power capacity by 2030 so as to achieve net zero by mid-century seems to be a highly ambitious target for India, when we consider that fact that massive generating capacities through coal, gas and hydro power plants are being pursued.
It is astounding that even with such recurring scenarios of widespread power deficit at the national level, there are no coherent policies to address various associated concerns. One can only witness some ad hoc measures to tide over the immediate shortages without any long-term perspective.
It should become abundantly clear that the demand/ supply scenario for electricity on a sustainable basis at the national level can be feasible only with a set of coherent, diligently considered and sustainable policy framework.
All our experiences during the last 10-15 years, not only at the national level but also at the global level, should have convinced our authorities that only adequate capacities of renewable energy sources coupled with sensible policies on demand side management and other operational regimes can address various associated concerns satisfactorily. But sadly, we can only notice band-aid sort of measures in a critical economic sector like the power/ energy sector.
The CEA projection that "India would need 74 GW energy storage capacity for RE integration by 2032" throws up many issues of sustainability. If the overall plan is to create 74 GW energy storage capacity by 2031 only/ largely through pumped storage hydro schemes. as seems to be the preference of our authorities, the associated environmental degradation will be unacceptably high, and hence should be diligently reviewed.
The technology associated with the large size grid interactive energy storage batteries is appreciably advanced, and is already being successfully deployed in different power grids. This technology should be optimally used in our power grid. Our own experience with battery energy storage system should be a guiding factor for the entire energy sector in the country.
Since large size RE power parks shall mean the deployment of a large number of circuit breakers, the implications of SF6 gas used in such circuit breakers should be a major concern, as explained in an article in the link below.
Projection that India would need 74 GW energy storage capacity for RE integration by 2032 throws up issues of sustainability
SF6 is a major gas depleting the ozone layer in the earth's atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol, finalized in 1987, is a global agreement to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). ODS are substances that are commonly used in products such as refrigerators, air conditioners, fire extinguishers, circuit breakers, and aerosols. Since then it has been a major focus for countries like NZ and Australia. which are the worst affected countries from the Ozone depletion problem.
A highly effective and attractive option to deploy a massive amount of RE generating capacity by 2050 should be the adequate focus on distributed kinds of RE sources, such as roof-top SPV systems. Such a scenario will not only minimise the diversion of lands, and associated concerns, but will also minimise the need for additional SF6 based circuit breakers.
Keeping all these concerns in proper perspective of overall welfare of our society, it should become abundantly clear that our power sector should make all possible efforts to move urgently towards a scenario wherein distributed kinds of REsources and the associated capacities of energy storage batteries are the primary sources of electricity in all parts of the country.
Our authorities should focus on the associated set of sustainable policies and practices, as compared to the ongoing ad-hoc policies to add more of conventional technology power projects. Rational observers of the energy/ power sector in the country cannot notice any associated deliberations at the national level, as highlighted by the notable absence of a diligently prepared national energy policy.
---
*Power and climate policy analyst. Based on author's representation to RK Singh, Union Minister for Power

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