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Accelerating Clean Energy 2019 Event Recap

Accelerating Clean Energy is WRI India’s flagship energy sector conference. This year, the conference participants discussed issues related to India’s energy transition and potential solutions to address them.

India is at a unique juncture in its development. It is the fastest growing economy in the world, and is home to around 18 percent of the world’s population. The NITI Aayog’s vision document, Strategy for New India @ 75, states that the government’s goal is for India to be a USD 4.0 trillion economy by 2022. Energy is central to such an expansion. If the country’s growth and development objectives are to be met, India will require transformative changes in all sectors, especially in the energy sector.

While most of the country’s electricity supply continues to come from fossil-fuelled thermal power plants, India also has set ambitious renewable energy targets to be achieved in the next few years. Ultimately, all stakeholders collectively need to decide what steps India will take to meet the continuing energy and economic development needs of its people, taking into account the costs and risks of various options. The discussions at Accelerating Clean Energy 2019, a day-long event in New Delhi, focused on two central themes: scaling-up rooftop solar amongst commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers and reducing the negative externalities of thermal power plants. The sessions saw insightful conversations amongst senior government representatives, clean energy experts, and private sector leaders about the various challenges and possible enabling factors for rooftop solar projects amongst C&I consumers, and the need and the possible means to reduce the negative externalities of thermal power plants.

Scaling up rooftop solar amongst C&I consumers

Panellists Ritu Lal (Amplus Solar), Ajit Pandit (Idam Infrastructure Advisory Pvt Ltd), Sunil Kurian (Mahindra World City), Vishal Kapoor (Ministry of Power, Government of India) and Sugata Mukherjee (Tata Power) deliberated on the potential of market-based options to solve the barriers faced by SMEs, larger consumers, and utilities, and help in scaling-up onsite solar in India.

India’s target of 40GW of rooftop solar can only be achieved with the participation of the C&I sector. However, there are certain challenges that need to be considered. For suppliers, the fluctuating policy changes and lack of support from financial institutions hinders scaling up. For utilities, the challenge is the threat of reduced revenue from their most profitable segment – C&I consumers; and for consumers, challenges such as space, financial support and regulations by local authorities create a hurdle while trying to install rooftop solar.

The panellists agreed that to make rooftop solar a success in India, multiple solutions are required along with holistic reforms, and these must involve a variety of stakeholders in the process.

Reducing the negative externalities of thermal power plants

Panellists Shweta Narayan (Healthy Energy Initiative India), Vinay Rustagi (Bridge to India), Rasika Athawale (The Regulatory Assistance Project), and BS Rajput (Central Electricity Authority) deliberated on the nexus between air pollution, water stress and energy, and discussed mitigation methods for externalities arising from thermal power plants and solar PV panels to understand implementation challenges and opportunities.

There is a need to regulate externalities arising from thermal power plants such as ecological impacts, toxic contamination and loss of ground-water and soil, and loss of livelihoods, amongst other things. In fact, 40 percent of the country’s thermal power plants are located in areas facing high water stress, which a problem since these plants require water for cooling. While the Government of India, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Central Electricity Authority (CEA) have acknowledged that norms for water utilisation by power plants are important, the delay in the implementation of effective norms such as ones prescribed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is because technological adaptation such as Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) systems take a long time to implement. Would the implementation of an Emissions Reduction Portfolio to tackle air pollution externalities help, or should we consider emission surcharges as well?

However, solar PV panels on the other hand are not free of externalities either. While solar PV panels do not use as much water as the thermal power plants, they do require water for cleaning, which is a key concern. In addition, ground installations require vast land areas, and to avoid using arable land, solar farms are usually situated in dry, arid lands that are suffer from water stress already. Technologies to help mitigate this issue exist, but there needs to be better market awareness about the same.

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