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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Delhi can drive the country’s energy transition

Decision-makers require energy transition analyses with high spatial and temporal resolutions, not only on the global scale but also at national, regional and city levels

analysis Updated: Oct 21, 2019 12:55 IST
Manish Ram
Manish Ram
A participant during the Delhi Half Marathon, New Delhi, October 20, 2019
A participant during the Delhi Half Marathon, New Delhi, October 20, 2019(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)
         

With limited electricity-generating capacity, Delhi imports most of its electricity from neighbouring states. But these states have a high share of coal and gas power plants. Moreover, these power plants are polluting and worsen Delhi’s air pollution crisis. With band-aid fixes such as the odd-even scheme, ban on crackers, only the symptoms are treated, and not the disease. Delhi, though, has the potential to transition to 100% renewables. Over the next couple of months, a Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) team will look at Delhi’s hourly demand to map a 100% renewable energy transition pathway.

The recent United Nations Global Sustainable Development report finds that the current development model is not sustainable, and the progress made in the last two decades is in danger of being reversed through potentially irreversible declines in the natural environment driven by climate change and worsening social inequalities.

A consensus among scientists and other stakeholders is that a far more optimistic future is still attainable, but only by drastically changing current development practices, policies and incentives. This implies an acceleration in the transition of the global energy system towards sustainable renewable energy technologies. The report by REN21 suggests that cities around the world are at the forefront of the global energy transition with 55% of the population living in cities that account for 65% of the energy demand and emit nearly 75% of carbon dioxide emissions.

India has been among the progressive countries, pursuing ambitious renewable energy targets, in recent times the capacity has crossed the 80 GW mark, and is on course to meet its target of 175 GW of renewables by 2022. While, Delhi still receives most of its electricity from coal and gas power plants that make up 86% of the installed capacity mix.

The Sustainable Cities Index 2015 that judged 50 major world cities based on social, economic and environmental factors ranked Delhi among the worst cities. While local sources like transport, household cooking, waste burning and construction dust make for 60% of pollution in the city, the remaining 40% comes from outside city borders like coal-fired power plants, industrial emissions, brick kilns and agricultural waste burning. As political leaders start campaigning for elections in Delhi during the upcoming smoggy winter months, the issue has taken centre stage with Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal’s seven-point plan to tackle air pollution. It is clear that the problem has got political attention, but effective solutions remain to be found.

There have been some initiatives from the Delhi government with its solar policy targeting 294 MW by 2020. On the other hand, the Delhi government is exploring options to promote electric vehicles. According to a draft policy, the Delhi government wants 25% of all new vehicles to be electric. These efforts seem futile, lack a clear and coherent pathway, and need an ambitious vision to drive the changes required at all levels.

Cities around the world have a vital role to play in mitigating climate change and transforming energy systems, not only by individual actions of city dwellers in the form of PV prosumers but also influence the policies of the country. PV prosumers are expected to play a vital role in the Indian energy transition as shown in a study by LUT. According to a report by Greenpeace and Bridge to India, Delhi could produce around 2,557MW, which is more than 40% of its peak electricity demand by tapping only around 4% of the available rooftop area. Nearly half of this potential comes from residential buildings. With a comprehensive plan for the entire energy sector, Delhi can pursue a carbon neutral pathway. Several regions across the world are already generating reliably with 100% of their annual electricity from renewables: for example, two north German states, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and the Danish island of Samsoe.

Decision-makers require energy transition analyses with high spatial and temporal resolutions, not only on the global scale but also at national, regional and city levels. In this context, analyses conducted on full hourly resolution can demonstrate in considerable detail the technical viability, as well as the economic feasibility of 100% renewables based energy systems.

One such recent research conducted by LUT and Energy Watch Group generated results for a 100% renewables based global energy system at hourly resolution for a long-term perspective until 2050. The results demonstrate successfully that a 100% renewables-based energy system can contribute significantly to the utmost relevant societal desideratum, which is achieving a net zero emission global energy sector by 2050 and most importantly, in an affordable manner.

Therefore, there is a pressing need for energy transition plans at the city level and especially for political capitals such as Delhi, which can have tremendous impacts on the countries policies and drive the country’s transition towards a sustainable future.

Manish Ram is a doctoral researcher at Lappeenranta University of Technology

The views expressed are personal