You’ve heard it all before, but it bears repeating: climate change is one of the gravest risks to humankind. Since 2001, we have witnessed 14 of the 15 hottest years. The energy trapped by man-made pollution is equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every day of every year. And 85% of global energy burned annually comes from carbon-based fuel resources. The effects of these changes are felt across all sectors – economic, environmental and social.
It’s because of statistics like these that renewables are becoming increasingly important as a source of energy. In 2014, global investment in renewable energy stood at $391 billion, with 62% coming from the private sector. Over the past 10 years, renewable energy has moved closer and closer to achieving grid parity because costs have been steadily reducing across all elements, including PV cells, solar installations, wind energy generation and storage solutions. This marks a massive growth in the potential of the sector.
Renewable energy goes mainstream
Just 20 years ago, renewable energy was a nascent industry in which few people were interested. But some people did recognize its potential – our world needed to be protected from increasing carbon emissions brought about by industries and individuals. And by the year 2000, India had a total renewable energy installed capacity of ~3.6GW, primarily constituted of wind energy. That was only the beginning.
In the 15 years that followed, the risks of climate change grew, along with the understanding from businesses of the potential for investing in renewables, and this spurred exponential sector growth. In the 15 years after 2000, India’s renewable energy capacity has had a meteoric rise, reaching ~39GW at the end of 2015. The global scenario is no different. From ~245MW in 2000, global renewable energy installation now stands at ~942GW (these figures are exclusive of large hydropower).
One thing is clear from all this: the world is going renewable. In fact, it would be fair to say that renewable energy is now mainstream. And India provides a great example of how that happened.
India’s journey into renewables
Why did India go from being powered primarily by traditional fossil-based resources to renewables? There are many reasons. Demand for energy in India is huge, mainly because of its population and growing industrialization. Added to this is the government’s ambition of achieving energy security for all and its commitment to reducing carbon emission. This has led to proactive stakeholder engagement – all sectors, including civil society, businesses and government, are involved in the attempt to find a way of fulfilling their energy needs without adversely affecting the environment. This translates into enhanced renewable energy demand and subsequent capacity build-up.
The Indian government has also been very supportive of the industry during this transition. A positive policy framework that incorporates a means to increase financing – both domestic and international – in the sectors has led to a growing number of businesses and states embracing renewable energy. This then poses the challenge of how the renewable energy capacity can be enhanced in the face of limited resources such as land. The only answer is to optimize the use of existing resources. So how can we make the most of our resources and existing installations?
The answer – technology.
A green revolution
Technology in renewable energy has already led to many innovations in business models, products and solutions. For instance, higher wind turbines, designed to be suitable for rotors with larger diameters. These higher towers, combined with larger rotor diameters, result in increased generation even from low wind, transforming previously unviable wind sites, and opening up a larger pool of land resources.
Land limitation problems can be solved through solutions such as wind-solar hybrids. This will result in the excess space of wind sites being used for new solar projects and the two will work in combination to optimize power evacuation and ensure stability of generation from the dual resources.
Solar energy has also gone through innovations and is growing at an incredible speed. Today, transparent solar energy generation screens are close to becoming a commercial reality, leading to potential advancements such as buildings being powered by solar window panes or phones by solar screens.
That is why I believe, like many other companies focused on R&D, that innovation and technological advancement is the way forward for renewable energy. In India, the national offshore policy recently approved by the government has opened up 7,600 km of coast line as a potential for wind projects. But technology is yet to catch up on a commercial scale. When it does, in the near future, we will have more wind energy generation than ever before and we will be powering the energy needs necessary for the country’s development through a clean source that protects the environment. And that is what we need to look at as we move forward.
Today, R&D efforts are focused on developing longer, lightweight blades made of carbon and other reinforced composites. By increasing wind catchment area, these blades reduce weight and improve economies, making energy harnessing more efficient. People are also talking about smart blades, smart loads and smart controls.
Another innovative concept is the floating wind turbine. A combination of a blimp and a turbine, the wind turbine is attached to a blimp filled with helium and can be hooked up from anywhere and mounted in a day, without any major installation costs or time.
But while all these are moves in the right direction, it is also extremely important that companies move beyond the basic installation and commissioning to holistic development by providing social assistance to the rural populace that are within the vicinity of renewable energy sites. This would ensure the country as a whole develops sustainably.
It is through technological innovation and the pursuit of sustainable social, economic and ecological development that we can chart the country’s path to progress and power a greener tomorrow.
The white paper, Fuelling India's Potential, is available here.