Energy experts have welcomed the move as a positive step for a country that relies on coal for around 75% of its electricity. The plan, updated every five years, serves as a guideline for India's priorities in its electricity sector. India is the world's third-highest emitter and most populous country. It plans to reach net zero emissions by 2070, which would mean significantly slashing coal use and ramping up renewable energy.
In a draft of the plan released in September, the Central Electricity Authority projected that nearly 8,000 megawatts of new coal capacity would be required by 2027. However, Wednesday's strategy proposes the build-out of more than 8,600 megawatts of battery energy storage systems instead. Battery storage is crucial for the round-the-clock use of renewable energy.
"This plan is a step in the right direction," said Raghav Pachouri, an energy sector expert at Vasudha Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank. Pachouri said one reason the plans for new coal might have been scrapped is because there are already some coal plants under construction. The country is also experiencing longer summers and hotter weather in part due to climate change, meaning greater electricity demand during the scorching day, making it easier to fulfill energy needs with renewables, said Pachouri. "When you need energy during the day, solar power can provide for it," he said.
India plans to install 500 gigawatts of clean energy by 2030, enough energy to power anywhere from 150 to 500 million homes depending on power use, but is not on course to meet that target, according to Aditya Lolla, an energy analyst at think tank Ember. "We're installing only up to 17 gigawatts a year, this needs to increase to 40 to 45 gigawatts to meet targets," said Lolla.
The new plan projects new coal power will be built after 2027, but Lolla says this should be taken with a pinch of salt. "Traditionally, projections for the coming five years are more concrete and those for the subsequent years are essentially placeholders," said Lolla. "India wants to move towards a cleaner power system. With every electricity plan, the coal pipeline is falling."
Lolla predicts that with the current volatile global energy picture due to Russia's war in Ukraine, climate change, and pandemic recovery, India will take a call on its longer-term energy plan at a future date, depending on how things progress by 2027.