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A Renewable Solution for India


Solar energyIt was around 98°F with 75% humidity in New Delhi when the massive power outages in late July occurred. That is pretty close to the temperature in a typical steam room, so you can imagine how miserable it was as over 600 million people were without electricity to run a fan or power an air conditioner where available, due to a massive blackout (technically two black outs). That is the equivalent to every person in the United States living without power … times two.

The largest blackout to date in Indonesia affected only 15% of the people that India’s July blackout impacted. This is the going to be categorized as the largest blackout in history and it will be discussed in papers, panels, journals and blogs for years to come. It will take time to uncover the exact cause of the outage, although Smart Grid News recently published an insightful article that touched on potential causes. Yet the outage has already raised larger issues about India’s energy use.

India is no stranger to reliability issues. With a current population of 1.2 billion people and a population growth rate of about 1.4%, the country is adding 1.6 million new potential energy users a year. Add in the fact that its industrial and commercial sectors are growing quickly, and the country’s growing demand for electricity just can’t keep up with supply. India is in a situation where its peak load is 112 GW, yet they only have 110 GW of generation, a shortfall of about 10%.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that India needs to build more generation, which this country plans to do. Part of the challenge with this is, like many developing nations, they rely heavily on oil, coal, and natural gas power generation. These fuels cost a lot of money for India to import and sustain as is, apart from the capital cost of building additional generation plants. If you look at India’s renewable potential maps, solar power would make a lot of sense for increasing generation in the area that was affected by the blackouts. Renewable generation would offer an alternative that can increase generation while also alleviating India’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels, the benefits of which we’ve talked about before. Moreover, as Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported earlier this year, solar power is now cheaper than the diesel-generated electricity that’s so commonly used in India. Indeed, as Bloomberg also reported, increasing fuel costs and decreasing solar panel prices are making solar pay for itself without state subsidies. It’s also proving increasingly viable not just to support electricity demand in cities, but also to support areas that lack grid access or where electric service is patchy.

A multi-faceted approach is needed to meet India’s energy needs today and in the future, but I do hope renewables play a significant role. How important do you think renewable energy sources will be as India’s energy demand grows? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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