A new report, “Synchronizing energy transitions towards possible Net-Zero for India: Affordable and clean energy for all”, has been launched by Ajay Kumar Sood, Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to the Government of India. The report was prepared by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) under a project agreed in November 2021 by the PSA Office. The aims of the project were to carry out a comprehensive study looking at 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 net-zero emissions.

At the November 2021 COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged that India would achieve net-zero (NZ) carbon emissions by 2070. The 224-page study investigates seven alternate scenarios, four of which assess the potential net-zero 2070 pathways through various energy mixes. These scenarios explore different clean technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear, carbon capture, utilisation and storage, hydrogen, biomass and energy efficiency measures to achieve net zero while optimising for energy costs. Keeping energy and electricity costs affordable to ensure equitable access is one of the primary objectives, undertaken. The study also discusses the investment needs and making low-cost finance available to deploy these technologies.

“Given the development needs and related increased energy use, India’s climate policies adopt a development-centric approach to strike a balance between its climate change commitments, economic growth, and development.” The report notes. “However, achieving NZ emissions from the energy systems in the latter half of this century, primarily from a fossil-fuel-dependent electricity sector, will pose additional challenges in balancing global climate targets with domestic development goals.”

It concludes: “One of the key findings of this study is that clean, affordable electricity can be achieved in NZ pathways, especially with a focus on nuclear power.” No NZ is possible without substantial nuclear power generation in 2070 under all four of the key scenarios. This ranges from 331 GW under NZ1 (with a thrust on nuclear energy) to 178 GW under the NZ4 (integrated) scenario. “For India, investments are an important dimension for moving toward NZ 2070. Achieving the necessary levels of nuclear power generation for India to achieve NZ emissions by 2070 would require significant investments in research, development, and large-scale deployment of nuclear technologies. Capital investments in the electricity sector between 2020 and 2070 could be 30–70% higher than under the current medium-growth scenario (without the NZ target)…. We have explored how India can achieve clean and affordable electricity under four NZ pathways. To achieve NZ energy systems by 2070, the electricity sector will need to decarbonize well before that year.”

The IIMA project team was led by Amit Garg in consultation with an expert group constituted by the PSA Office, which included representatives from the coal, nuclear, solar, wind and biofuels generation sectors. It was supported by the PSA Office and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. The report was independently reviewed by Tata Consulting Engineers Limited.

A disclaimer notes: “The academic work does not in any way represent our considered opinion for climate negotiations and also does not reflect the official policy or position of the Government of India. The information presented here is based on policies and regulations available in public domain by August 2023.

In a message included in the report, Anil Kakodkar, Chancellor of the Homi Bhabha National Institute, Chairman of the Rajiv Gandhi Science & Technology Commission and former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, noted that “several institutions and analysts, mostly outside India, have looked at potential scenarios for approaching global net zero”. He added: “India has been a key focus area of many such studies, considering its size, rapidly growing economy, and significantly higher climate change threat potential. Rather than looking at vacating the carbon space at an accelerated pace as a part of correcting its disproportionate use by advanced countries, most of these studies tend to under-estimate India’s energy needs.” He says going forward, unfolding of the complexity of clean energy transition could throw up many decision points “where we should be guided by holistic understanding generated through this and many such detailed energy studies and not faulter to the detriment of our national interests”.

In his Foreword Dr Ravi B Grover, Emeritus Professor at the Homi Bhabha National Institute in Mumbai and Chairman of Project Review, says “meeting the twin objectives of decarbonization and economic growth is challenging”. He adds: “With the increasing penetration of variable renewables, there is a growing realisation that while renewable sources are needed for decarbonisation, firm dispatchable sources such as nuclear and fossil with carbon capture and storage (or use) have to be a significant part of the energy mix.”

Electricity has to be generated and provided to consumers wherever they are located and whenever they need it. This results in high integration costs for renewables because of their variability and non-dispatchability. “The current practice of socializing the integration cost of renewables is a hidden subsidy”. The objective of this report, he says, “is to bring out all these aspects for the benefit of the public and policymakers and build scenarios for an energy mix that provides affordable and clean energy for all citizens living in a well-developed India.”

The report says Net-Zero is a challenge for India. “Multiple transitions have to happen almost simultaneously across energy supply and end-use sectors. Overall, all low-carbon technologies may be provided a level playing field and preferential treatment could be avoided for only select technologies through new, innovative finance and/ or transition finance mechanisms. Life cycle assessment of each of the alternate energy system should be carried out, and incentives may be linked proportionately to the net mitigation provided by alternate technologies constituting the energy basket. This is particularly relevant in the case of hydrogen.”

The report recommends regulatory changes to reflect hydrogen blending limits into natural gas networks. “An analysis of the fugitive emissions from hydrogen transmission and distribution networks is also imperative because hydrogen could be more susceptible to leakage. Finally, we also recommend a screening program to explore naturally occurring hydrogen in India.”

Among other recommendations are that uranium storage facilities are commissioned to allow for resilience to disruption of nuclear power. “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.”