The difficulty with renewables

Source– The post is based on the article “The difficulty with renewables” published in The Indian Express on 23rd February 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Energy

Relevance: Renewable energy and related issues

News- The target of having 500 GW of non-fossil generating capacity by 2030 may look impressive. But, it may prove to be elusive unless we can enhance our storage capacity.

Why is storage not a prominent challenge for the energy sector in current times?

India has more than 200 GW of coal-based capacity. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission recognises 55% as the technical minimum. It means that a 1,000 MW plant can run at 550 MW.

The additional operating cost for running the plant at 55% capacity is allowed by the CERC as legitimate expenditure.

Why is there a need for a focus on storage capacity in the future?

When India’s renewable capacity goes up further, some of the coal-based units would generate at the technical minimum and the extra renewable energy would be used to charge the batteries.

This stored energy could be used to supply electricity during the non-solar hours, especially when the coal-based generating units would be phased out gradually.

Some minimum coal-based generation would be required for meeting a part of the base load.

What are storage options for India and hurdles faced by storage options?

These options are hydrogen-based storage, lithium-ion batteries and pump storage plants.

Hydrogen storage is feasible for long-term storage. One can use this stored energy, for example, in situations when coal mining goes down or when hydro generation depletes due to low reservoir levels.

For day-to-day storage, batteries are still the ideal source. Though the cost of batteries has declined by about 80% over the last decade, it is still quite expensive. Moreover, the pace of decline in the cost of batteries has reached a plateau.

Pump storage plants, India has a total capacity of about 4.7 GW but only 3.3 GW is functional. A survey of the CEA estimated a pump storage potential of about 100 GW.

Pump storage plants have not really grown in India due to several factors, including high investment costs, long gestation periods, non-remunerative pricing models and lack of adequate sites having the topography that is required for operating a pump storage plant.

What will be other challenges for the renewable energy sector in India?

The financial condition of our distribution companies will be another hindrance. The additional solar and wind capacity has to come from the private sector.

No developer will invest unless there is some credible payment security mechanism.

Problems with land acquisition, and securing the right of way for laying down transmission lines will also continue to hinder progress.

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