Seizing the Climate Imperative in India: Every Second Counts

India needs to ramp up its power system flexibility to meet the 500 GW non-fossil fuel energy capacity target by 2030, major part of which is solar and wind energy.

January 18, 2024. By Anurima Mondal

To achieve our climate targets, we need carbon emissions to peak by 2025 and halve by the end of this decade. India has pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2070 during COP 26, the UN Climate Change Conference held in 2021.
The urgency of the situation is unequivocal, and the solution is equally clear: we need to triple renewable energy and require a seismic change in the level of investment - up to USD 5.7 trillion per year by 2030 - to put us on course for the 1.5C Paris Agreement scenario.
It’s now or never to meet climate goals
India needs to ramp up its power system flexibility to meet the 500 GW non-fossil fuel energy capacity target by 2030, major part of which is solar and wind energy. Its current installed capacity is approximately 410 GW, of which already 110 GW (27 percent) is solar and wind, which will be growing continuously to reach the above said target by 2030. Needless to say, this will increase the energy contribution from renewables significantly and rightly so.
But renewables alone are not enough to deliver the change we need. To enable wind and solar to thrive, we need to build flexible energy systems that are reliable and affordable. We cannot delay any longer. Flexible energy systems comprise of a robust transmission system, demand side management and flexible generating capacities. While the first two are simpler to decide on, the questions lingering in the government’s mind are which type of flexible generation should be chosen, when to introduce them and how much of such capacity is required to cater to a resilient power system.
Wasting renewable energy
Around the world, renewables are quickly becoming the most competitive source of electricity generation. Indian scenario is no different. Setting ambitious renewable energy targets and deploying wind and solar capacities at scale is essential to enable rapid decarbonisation. However, investing millions of dollars into wind and solar will lead to frequent curtailment of renewable energy, if they are built into inflexible power systems.
For generations, we have been reliant upon traditional, inflexible power plants, such as coal, combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT) and Nuclear to provide baseload power for our electricity grids. These traditional power systems now need to adapt, as with such large-scale additions of solar and wind, not only the capacity mix will change, renewable energy is expected to constitute a significant part of energy mix as well.
As wind and solar power is intermittent, running them alongside inflexible baseload power plants, which cannot quickly ramp up and down to match the changing levels of renewable power, can create significant issues, such as instability or unreliability for our power grids or curtailment of renewable energy. As the level of renewable energy in our grids increases in the coming years, a large share of these inflexible power plants will face issues of constant cycling leading to faster wear & tear and become uneconomical to operate.
We therefore need to combine the build out of renewables, with a substantial increase in flexible capacity such as grid balancing internal combustion engines (ICE) and energy storage, which can quickly ramp up and down to support wind and solar power and help to maintain stability and reliability.
India’s power grid too could immensely benefit from using both gas engines (ICE) and energy storage for meeting the flexibility requirements. The New Energy Outlook 2023: India report, published by BloombergNEF also points out that India will need relatively large amount of gas peakers to help manage its peak load. ICE technology with its capability to do multiple start stops in a day, can provide the balancing support also from the same capacity. 

Flexibility is not an optional addition to our increasingly renewable power systems – it is an essential part of our future power grids. If we fail to deliver flexibility at scale, it will threaten our ability to provide affordable and reliable power to industry, homes and businesses – while reaching our decarbonisation targets. It will inhibit our ability to deliver reliable renewable power, which could have a significant impact on lives and livelihoods.
Building affordable power systems
Having studied and modelled over 190 energy systems around the world, using energy simulation software, we have found that anywhere in the world, the most cost-effective approach to reach 100 percent renewable energy is to combine renewable power with flexibility in the form of grid balancing engines and energy storage. These solutions offer high levels of dispatchability and can ramp up and down quickly in any conditions. This setup delivers reliable renewables at a low levelised cost of electricity, making clean energy affordable for all.
A joint power system study was done by Wärtsilä and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT) Finland, which explored the feasibility of a net-zero emissions power system in India by 2050. The study found that renewables, paired with flexible generation technologies like gas engines (ICE) and energy storage for balancing and peaking, can create a cost-optimal carbon-neutral power mix and can significantly reduce the levelized cost of electricity at the system level.
Future-proofing our power system
The path to net zero is not linear and the last few years have demonstrated that we cannot see exactly what is around the corner. Therefore, policy makers must establish market conditions and policies to enable us to build flexibility into power systems today and ensure they’re adaptable for tomorrow.
The balancing of renewables requires both energy storage and grid balancing power plants. They work together to cover sub-second, minute, daily and seasonal variations and ensure a steady supply of electricity when renewable output fluctuates.
Grid balancing engine technology can also be converted to run on hydrogen and other sustainable fuels in future. These include fuels produced from excess wind and solar power, to enable a closed loop, fully renewable system and avoid stranded assets.
Such flexible engine technology is the optimal choice to supporting our increasingly renewable power systems than alternatives like gas turbines. This is because they can quickly ramp up and down an unlimited amount of times per day, are highly efficient at any output and can maintain efficiency and power output at different loads and at high ambient conditions. That means they can better match the variability of renewable power to match the energy requirements of the grid.
Three principles for our flexible future
Based on our modelling and expertise, we have outlined three crucial principles for policy makers and the wider energy industry to follow when designing our future power systems.
Firstly, we need to ensure that we are choosing the right technologies. The build out of wind and solar power must be matched with flexible grid balancing engines and energy storage to ensure the optimal, lowest cost power mix.
Secondly, we must design our energy markets to support flexibility – for example creating capacity markets to ensure developers receive a return on their investment, even if a plant runs only intermittently to balance demand.
And finally, we should introduce shorter timeframes i.e. using 15-minute or even 5-minute time resolution in the power market trading instead of one hour to reduce the imbalance within the hour, and improve the overall planning of the power grid, make it more accurate and requires less reserves.
Every second counts
In 1896, a seminal paper by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first predicted that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect. Over 120 years later, we still haven’t been able to stop CO2 levels from rising.
Our window to reduce emissions and keep our planet habitable is closing. We have the technologies, expertise and finance available now to create a greener future and there is no time to waste: every second counts.

-Göran Richardsson, Energy Business Director, South Asia, Energy Business, Wärtsilä
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