India’s heatwave pushes leading clean energy nation back to coal

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MUMBAI – Karnataka, India’s leading clean energy producing state, experienced a windy monsoon last year and comfortable temperatures, prompting the construction of three local government thermal coal power plants as wind turbines met power demand. has eased the pressure on

But to cope with this year’s hot and energy-intensive summer, city dwellers are turning to air conditioning and farmers are using water pumps to combat heatwaves and above-average temperatures. The coal-fired power plant is now running at full speed.

According to the meteorological authority, daytime highs in South India are 3-4 degrees Celsius above the usual 36-40 degrees Celsius for this time of year.

The situation in Karnataka, which was recently praised by researchers for its readiness for the energy transition, foreshadows the challenges facing India with global warming. This means that despite the increasing supply of clean energy, we must rely on coal as our only reliable fuel.

India has set a target of 500 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2030. The year is also the year in which the country’s coal demand is estimated to increase by 60%, reaching up to 1.5 billion tonnes, to meet its growing electricity demand.

Karnataka hit a record 309 million units of electricity consumption in a single day on April 19, when the state’s highest temperature reached 41.5 degrees Celsius, officials said.

Kapil Mohan, deputy chief secretary of Karnataka’s energy sector, described April as the “peak summer month” with record temperatures and high electricity consumption.

During the summer, solar energy production is plentiful, but wind power tends to decline and hydropower reservoirs dry up, he added.

“There will be no dramatic reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels in the energy sector,” he said. “My energy surplus is not constant and I need to supply power around the clock.”

He pointed out that accelerating the transition to renewable energy requires solutions to scale up clean energy storage.

Karnataka, whose capital Bengaluru is known worldwide as India’s Silicon Valley, has installed massive solar parks and wind turbines to help it surpass the 14.8GW renewable capacity target set by the federal government last year. increase.

In a recent study, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) compared the readiness of 16 states in India for the energy transition and rated Karnataka as a role model for other Indian states.

“Karnataka’s renewable energy accounts for 48% of its power mix, and increased storage capacity will reduce reliance on coal as a flexible resource,” said co-author of the report. IEEFA Energy Analyst Saloni Sachdeva Michael said.

However, renewable energy supplies are still intermittent, so coal reliance will continue for some time, she noted.

“You can’t turn off thermals. This will be a gradual transition,” she said.

huge solar park

Naranaiah Amaranath, Chief Executive Officer of Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Ltd, recalls a time when solar power was not taken seriously, but 30 years later, it has become a major power source.

The Pavagada Solar Park, with the world’s largest capacity, began operations in 2019.

The output of thermal power plants declined soon thereafter, with solar power being used during the day and coal-fired power plants being deployed to meet morning and evening peak demand.

Thanks to solar, farmers now have up to 7 hours of uninterrupted power supply instead of 3-4 hours of work.

“This is a dry land and farmers rely on wells to pump water to irrigate their crops,” said Govinda Gowda, who heads the Agricultural Science Center in Tumkur District, Karnataka. “Frequent blackouts impacted productivity as crops were lost due to lack of proper irrigation.”

Reliable power supplies have improved yields by 10 percent over the past four years in areas where most farmers grow red grams, finger millet and coconut, Gauda said.

The state now operates entirely on renewable energy for several days a year during the peak wind season from July to September.

Globally, the International Energy Agency predicts that renewables will account for more than 90% of the world’s electricity expansion over the next five years, overtaking coal to become the largest source of electricity by early 2025.

However, the reliability of Karnataka’s clean energy supply is weather dependent and has been disrupted by soaring temperatures. This is because the intense heat of the summer has caused electricity demand to exceed the level that renewable energy could supply in the absence of storage equipment.

The state is investing in hydro-powered pumped reservoirs. That means pumping water to higher levels when electricity is cheap and releasing it during peak demand.

But energy bureaucrat Mohan said even without sufficient clean energy storage, coal-fired power could be cut because the heat capacity is flexible and can be turned on and off as supply from renewable sources fluctuates. must be kept on standby.

India’s coal use is not expected to peak until 2030-2035, so the government is reluctant to sign just energy transition partnerships with developed countries.

Energy analysts say the country is instead seeking international funding to boost its renewable power grid and storage infrastructure. This will accelerate the transition to clean energy.

New High for Coal

Karnataka’s 1,700-megawatt Bellari thermal power plant saw its power demand drop to a rare low in 2020 due to pandemic lockdowns and the Pavagada solar park coming online.

But last year, the power plant’s coal consumption surged to 5.5 million tons from 1.9 million tons in 2020, and its power generation jumped from 3 billion units to about 7 billion units, plant data shows.

Venkata Chalapathi, executive director of Bellary, said that from 2017 to 2018 the power plant was operating at 70% to 100% of its capacity, but after renewable energy was introduced, thermal power generation decreased. said it started. That is now reversed as overall demand increases, he said.

Analysts say Karnataka’s pattern mirrors the Indian coal landscape.

The Federal Coal Department predicted an upward trend in coal demand last year, with about 1.45 billion tons projected for fiscal year 2029-30, up from 956 million tons in 2019-20, and peak power must meet the requirements.

Sankar Mukhopadhyay, Director of Asian Power Management Association (a training and consultancy organization), said India will ensure stable, affordable and flexible power generation despite increasing renewable capacity. It said it would continue to need coal. “Unless we have a disruptive technology like hydrogen and it’s as economical as coal, it’s unthinkable to replace coal for at least 20 years,” he said.

(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll, Editing by Megan Rowling)

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