Why This Could Be Renewable Energy’s Biggest Moment
In July this year, the United Kingdom set a new record for use of renewable energy. One of the five biggest economies in the world, the UK’s electrical grid did not burn any coal for 1,000 hours in the year for the first time ever, and with nearly half the year still remaining. Seeing that the same figure stood at 624 hours in all of 2017, the pace at which the UK’s power grid is transitioning to clean, renewable energy is impressive.
Scientists are constantly bringing down costs of renewable power and some analysts even claim that it could be effectively free by 2030. A premise that’s more widely agreed upon, however, is that renewable energy will keep becoming cheaper and will soon cost consistently less than fossil fuels – perhaps within a year or two. The cost of generating solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has already fallen by 73% since 2010. As costs go down, developing countries like India stand to benefit the most from renewable energy sources.
Renewable has never been cheaper in India
In mid-2017, wholesale solar energy prices reached a record low in India, faster than anyone could have predicted. In February 2017, wind energy tariff had also fallen to a record low, eventually making it the cheapest source of renewable energy in India. This means India can now deploy clean and renewable energy in many more regions, making it cheaper and widely available, while cutting down on carbon emissions and fulfilling its international commitments. Both wind and solar energy now stand cheaper than thermal power, and the country added 11 GW of renewable energy capacity in 2017-18, the highest ever in a year.
Powering mega operations
Renewable energy is today powering electricity grids and entire industries such as automobiles. It now seems possible that around 50% of the world’s energy will come from solar and wind energy by 2050. In Germany, renewable meets over 35% of the country’s entire power requirement. Auto giant BMW is developing a plan to charge electric vehicles with renewable energy, taking the next step in producing cheaper and zero-emission vehicles. Even Facebook has now committed to run on 100% renewables by 2020.
India has surpassed many of its targets for generating wind, solar, biogas, hydro, biomass and recycled waste renewable energy. In July last year, Indian Railways launched its first solar-powered train and is now hoping to meet at least 25% of its total power demand via renewables. The airport in Kochi is the world’s first and only 100% solar-powered airport while Guwahati has the country’s first fully solar-powered railway station. Renewable energy is well poised to account for 40% of India’s installed electricity capacity by 2030. India even has solar-powered “water ATMs” dispensing clean water to remote locations.
Apart from arresting global warming and reducing air and water pollution, the use of renewable energy can be beneficial for the economy too. As major players increasingly invest in harnessing this never-ending supply of energy in innovative ways, we would finally stop relying on exhaustible resources confined in very few regions.Furthermore, renewable energy production is more labour-intensive than fossil fuel technologies and creates more jobs. Last year, around 4,32,000 Indians found employment in the renewable industry and this number is expected to go up to 45 lakh over the next 25 years.
Some challenges ahead
One of the biggest challenges in front of the country right now is the lack of infrastructure to use the huge renewable energy capacity. As of now, we are using only 7% of our renewable energy capacity from wind, solar, biomass and small hydro resources. Transmission facilities to use this energy are not in place as yet, leading to fear of financial loss among investors, as works in progress might have to be delayed or, worse, abandoned. In addition, the reliability of renewables is often challenged due to the poor storage technologies in the market.
And then there’s the cost of power generation. While constantly going down, it is still not cheap to build a wind or solar farm and the Indian government has further complicated things by announcing a 25% safeguards duty on imported solar equipment. While the scope and potential are exciting, to maximise the use and benefits of renewable energy, India will have to streamline policy and pricing, making the transition to clean energy smoother.
The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.