Carbon Neutral 2050 vision: Will India make the tiger leap?

Carbon Neutral 2050 vision: Will India make the tiger leap?

5 min read

05 Mar 2021


Joanna Sinclair



5 min read

05 Mar 2021


Joanna Sinclair



Soaring temperatures, colossal hurricanes and unprecedented wildfires marked 2020 as one of the hottest years in recorded history. So far, 33 countries have made climate emergency declarations, the European Green Deal aims at making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, and many countries – including China – have made net-zero pledges.

Now, the world is now looking at India and its climate ambitions. As International Energy Agency (IEA) states in its recent report India Energy Outlook 2021: “All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”.

New research shows that bolder climate goals could be a cost-optimal choice for India. A power system based on 100% renewable energy would reduce overall electricity costs in India, boost job creation, reduce both air pollution and water stress, and also enable the country to build an energy secure future.

A roadmap for achieving a net-zero power system across India by 2050

LUT University in Finland is known for its world-class proprietary model for analysing energy systems. LUT University partnered with Wärtsilä to carry out a first-of-its kind power system modelling study exploring a net-zero power system across India by 2050.

The primary objective of the study was to come up with a transition scenario that showcases the economic benefits India would reap from transitioning to a 100% renewable energy system.

“Our aim was to create a techno-economic roadmap: the best possible pathway for India to achieve a carbon neutral power system,” explains Manish Ram, doctoral researcher in Solar Economy at LUT University.

“Our analysis shows that the decarbonisation of India’s power system is achievable by 2050 – and it would be more economical than India’s current system, which is highly polluting, plagued with inefficiencies, and costing the Indian taxpayers,” Ram adds.

“Our aim was to create a techno-economic roadmap: the best possible pathway for India to achieve a carbon neutral power system,” explains Manish Ram, doctoral researcher in Solar Economy at LUT University.

While LUT University’s research confirmed many presuppositions that Sandeep Sarin, Market Development Manager at Wärtsilä Energy, had of a renewables dominated power system, he admits that he was positively surprised by some of the results.

“I have been associated extensively with the Indian power market for years. If you had asked me five years ago, I would not have been very enthusiastic about the commercial viability of renewable energy. Today, I am a totally converted person in the way I view renewables. LUT University’s study shows that it is possible to build a system powered by renewables that is affordable, sustainable and reliable – while creating more jobs,” Sarin contemplates.

LUT University’s research also shows that a carbon neutral energy system would foster India’s energy security by making it self-sustainable.

“A carbon neutral power system by 2050 would reduce India’s import bill. In fact, India could potentially even become a net exporter of energy to neighbouring countries,” Sarin points out.

This said, it is important to note that fossil fuels are and will still be a part of the energy mix for the foreseeable future. In LUT University’s model, gas, first fossil and later on synthetic is necessary for the effective and cost-efficient integration of renewables in India’s power system.

“Thus, collaboration between government and industry is pivotal for enabling India’s transition to a power system based on renewables by 2050,” Sarin underlines.

Solar power and complementing flexible technology

At present, India’s energy system is not dynamic enough to cater to the efficient integration of renewable energy. Flexibility is key to achieving the energy transition.

LUT University’s analysis shows how India’s power system can use flexible power generation technology and storage options to make the most of solar power.

“When the system is generating surplus renewables, this surplus can be converted into for example hydrogen or synthetic methane, which can be stored and used later,” Sarin says.

“The key is to have solutions that can respond quickly to the variability in renewable energy production without additional cost burden. Energy storage is a highly flexible solution, as it enables both generating and absorbing energy. Engines are also important, they can be ramped up in less than 5 minutes to provide balancing support to the grid when needed and cranked down when supply meets demand,” Ram affirms.

Sarin underscores that if India wishes to utilise renewable energy as its prime source of electricity, then a lot needs to be done to build supply side flexibility in the power system.

“However, strengthening system flexibility is easier said than done. A lot needs to fall in place to create a well-functioning balancing market that allows system operators to procure the desired service to ensure system reliability,” Sarin highlights.

India needs solid policies to attract investments

Sarin and Ram concur that India has taken remarkable strides in reforming its power sector in recent decades. Electricity shortages are declining, and connectivity is approaching almost all the households spread across the country. Moreover, India’s climate action progress has also been commendable on many fronts.

However, decisive policies and bolder ambition are needed if India aspires to be completely powered by renewable energy, storage and other flexible and sustainable technologies by 2050.

“Policies at the national as well as at the individual state levels for solar PV adoption have to be enhanced, along with exclusive push for the prosumer segment. There is also a need for investments in strong regional and interstate grids that will reduce curtailment and enable a smooth transition across the Indian power system,” Ram remarks.

At present, India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Ram emphasises that if India hopes to ensure that this growth continues, it should not lock itself into outmoded power plans and technology.

“Western countries that have invested a great deal into conventional technology based on coal and gas turbines now face the problem of how to divest. India, however, has a great opportunity to take a tiger leap and boost investments directly into renewable energy,” Ram says.

The LUT University study concludes that creating a net-zero emissions energy system in India – and securing all the benefits it promises – has two main prerequisites: openness to new technologies and supporting policies and regulations.

“India needs strong policy that articulates future renewable targets, and explicit action from policy makers, such as market mechanisms to attract investments in new flexible technologies,” Sarin asserts.