The current power crisis the country is facing lays bare the ground realities of renewables and green energy initiatives. While the government has been boasting about adding more capacity —renewables’ power generation capacity accounts for almost 40% with solar and wind making up 27.5% of the total—coal continues to be the backbone of the power sector accounting for more than 75% electricity generation in the country. It must be noted that coal-based plants account for only 51% of the total installed capacity of the country.
The recent power crisis due to coal shortage proves the country’s dependence on the fossil fuel for its electricity needs, despite all the talk about green energy. Recently, India’s biggest power generation company, NTPC, which had adopted a policy to add only green energy capacity, decided to expand its coal-fuelled power generation capacity for the first time in the past six years. Though solar and wind energy account for 27.5% of the installed capacity, their contribution to power generation remains low—around 10%.
The problem with renewables is that the state distribution companies (discoms) have shown their reluctance in signing long-term power purchasing agreements with the solar/wind firms as their tariffs kept falling. In many cases, discoms have refused to honour the agreements signed earlier at higher tariffs as rates keep coming down due to aggressive bidding by solar power companies. The Centre has not been able to find a solution to this problem, forcing a parliamentary panel to ask the government to come out with a policy paper to resolve the issue.
There are other technical reasons for the reluctance of discoms to go green at a larger scale—renewable energy (RE) forecasting is one of them. Sharp fluctuation in generation is an inherent problem with renewable sources, and discoms are yet to develop better RE forecasting capabilities to keep their operations efficient. Unless sustained and meaningful efforts are made towards resolving these issues, renewable energy sources would remain on the fringes and coal would continue to fulfil most of our power needs.