Report on synchronizing energy transitions towards possible Net-Zero for India

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Nuclear energy forms a substantial part of India’s power generation strategy towards achieving carbon-neutrality by 2070, although coal is projected to continue for the next two decades as the backbone of the Indian energy system, according to an official report published last month.  

“Synchronizing energy transitions towards possible Net-Zero for India: Affordable and clean energy for all” has been prepared by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) as part of a project sanctioned by the Indian government’s Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA).  

The aims of the project were to carry out a comprehensive study of the methods for minimising the cost of power at the consumer end and to work out an optimum mix for all sources of power to reach India’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2070. 

At the COP-26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, India pledged it would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. The report noted that finances to the tune of Rs. 150-200 lakh crore (about $2-2.5 trillion, or $40-50 billion per year) would be required to effect the energy transition for achieving this target.  

“The report attempts to answer key questions related to India’s energy trajectory, such as how much energy India needs to achieve high value of Human Development Index (HDI); what pathways are to achieve this; what are the energy mix projections for this until 2070; what would be the cost of electricity to the end user,” an official release said, launching the report last month in New Delhi.  

The report noted that the country’s electricity sector will need to decarbonise well before 2070. It explores how India can achieve clean and affordable electricity under four different net-zero pathways and maps out its future energy requirements under seven alternative scenarios ranging from low to high economic growth, aligned with India’s ambition of achieving “developed country” status by 2047. 

“Slowly but surely, non-fossil energy (renewable and nuclear) needs to replace the fossil fuel share. Net-Zero (NZ) is a challenge for India. Multiple transitions have to happen almost simultaneously across energy supply and end-use sectors,” the report said.  

“No NZ is possible without substantial nuclear power generation in 2070,” it said, adding that this would require significant investments in research, development, and large-scale deployment of nuclear technologies.  

“One of the key findings of this study is that clean, affordable electricity at lowest LCOE (levelised cost of electricity) can be achieved in Net Zero pathways, especially with a focus on nuclear power and renewable power,” the report said.  

Significantly, the cost to end users under the NZ1 scenario – described as having a thrust on nuclear energy and includes a nuclear capacity of 331 gigawatts (GW) by 2070 – is found to be the lowest among all NZ options.  

“This is an important insight and should guide the policy and technology basket at the national level,” the report added. The establishment of a carbon price in India could generate further funds to “fill the investment gap in achieving the nuclear thrust”. 

Emeritus Professor Homi Bhabha National Institute, R. B. Grover, who is the Chairman of this project’s Review and Monitoring Committee, told Nuclear Asia in an interview that “during our discussions, it was acknowledged that to address climate emergency, it is necessary to plan for an energy system transition to reduce carbon emissions and it has to be done without negatively impacting the pace of development of the country.”  

“Recent academic studies, including those by the Nuclear Energy Agency and International Energy Agency, recognize the role of baseload sources such as nuclear in grid management, for providing security of supplies, and in reducing the capital needed for the energy system transition as well as improving affordability for consumers,” Grover said.  

The report concludes that there is no silver bullet to achieve net-zero and the transition needs multiple pathways to be adopted with the co-existence of myriad technologies in India’s energy basket. 

Although coal is projected to continue as the backbone of the Indian energy system for the next two decades, achieving net-zero by 2070 is not possible without substantial nuclear power and renewable energy generation. 

Among its recommendations, the report calls for a level playing field for all low-carbon technologies with new, innovative finance and transition finance mechanisms to avoid preferential treatment for any technology, and life-cycle assessments for all alternative energy systems. 
  
India’s shortage of indigenous uranium has hampered its nuclear programme momentum in the past until the more recent opening of the civil international uranium trade. The report recommends that uranium storage facilities are commissioned to allow for resilience. 

“Institutional arrangements may be scaled up so that more nuclear power could be commissioned easily and early. This may include public private partnerships. Special economic zones could be set up in areas where nuclear power/hydrogen cogeneration can take place alongside industrial operators with large demand for these commodities,” the report said.  

Former Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and Chancellor Homi Bhabha National Institute, Anil Kakodkar, who was the guest of honour at the launch of the report, told Nuclear Asia in an interview that “rapid economic growth and rapid decarbonisation, the two contra-indicators, must be simultaneously realised in India”. 

“This report estimates India’s energy needs between 19,000 – 23,000 terawatt hours (TWh) for a HDI of 0.9 and an assumed stabilised population of 1.5 billion. An important point to recognise is that these numbers are significantly larger than assessed renewable energy potential in the country. A large enough role of nuclear energy is thus inevitable for realisation of net zero without compromising development,” Kakodkar said. 

“Nuclear being the only clean energy baseload supply of significance is also important to keep tariffs to electricity consumers under check which otherwise could become significantly larger with higher levels of integration of variable renewable energy. Having recognised the importance of nuclear, its rapid scale up to the required levels is a challenge that the country and its policy makers must brace up to,” he added.  

India currently has 24 reactors in operation with a total capacity of over 8,200 MW and plans, with the aid of works in progress, to reach an installed nuclear power capacity of 22,500 MW by 2031-32.