With 27% of its power generation coming from renewable energy, Karnataka has emerged the leading State for renewable energy in India this year, pipping Tamil Nadu. According to a new report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the State reached 12.3 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity as of March 2018, having added 5 GW in 2017-18 alone.
“Karnataka had been building its wind energy capacity steadily over 10 years, but it moved ahead of Tamil Nadu due to a rapid scaling up of solar capacity in 2017-18, when it installed more than 4 GW of new photovoltaic generation. Currently, it has 5 GW of solar capacity and 4.7 GW of wind capacity. The remainder of its renewable portfolio (2.6 GW) includes small hydro, biomass, plus heat and power cogeneration,” the report said.
The Pavagada industrial solar park – said to be the second largest solar development currently under construction in the world – has been credited with reversing the State’s fortunes in renewable energy, along with “positive renewable energy policies” such as open access, the introduction of a hybrid wind-solar development policy and “significant steps to reverse Karnataka’s historic reliance on energy imports.”
However, the report mentions certain “threats” to solar energy in the State, including lack of transmission network infrastructure and policies such as repealing the zero wheeling charge order.
Reacting to the report, P. Ravi Kumar, Principal Secretary, Energy Department said the State had successfully reached a point recently where 80% of the power generated in Karnataka was through renewable energy.
“We have 5,203 MW of solar power, 4,900 MW of wind energy and 850 MW from mini-hydel projects, besides power from co-generation. We will continue to scale up generation through renewable energy. This year, we will be adding 1,600 MW of solar power. This season, we are getting adequate wind energy. After October, that may go down and we will have to rely on solar power,” he said.
With reference to the challenges to the renewable sector pointed out in the report, Mr. Ravi Kumar admitted that there were some constraints in network, but a green energy corridor was being set up.
“Coal unreliable, unviable, expensive”
The State’s coal-fired power plants, on the other hand, had very few positives in the IEEFA report, which termed them as “potential stranded assets that impose additional risk on the distribution companies, the banks and the overall Karnataka economy.”
“Almost the entirety of its (Karnataka’s) thermal capacity is composed of coal-fired generation, with only a small amount of diesel capacity. Karnataka does not have any in-State coal production. It is dependent on coal delivered via railways from mines outside the State and on imported seaborne coal,” the report stated, pointing out to “severe rail logistics issues and potential additional transportation-related costs” introduced for the State’s thermal generation, as also the possibility of supply shortages due to this reliance.
Pathway for electricity sector development
Terming Karnataka as a State with abundant renewable energy potential, the IEEFA has presented a model for the State’s electricity supply and demand for the decade up to 2027-28. Predicting a doubling of economic activity in the coming decade with steady 7.8% GDP growth that will drive a cumulative 73% increase in electricity demand, the IEEFA recommends scaling up renewables from 46% of state capacity (27% of generation) in 2017-18 to 60% of capacity (43% of generation).
The report also suggests that there is a need to “better incorporate more flexible, peaking capacity” for thermal power, which currently totals 38% of capacity and 49% of generation, though it is expected to remain steady. “For coal power, we model an improvement to a 53% average capacity utilisation rate by 2027-28, on the premise the current 35% utilisation rate is unsustainably low,” it said, adding that the alternative is accelerated plant closures.