New Delhi, Nov. 21: Advances in energy storage technology could pull down prices of solar and wind power to levels close to those of coal-fired power within the next five to seven years, energy analysts just back from the UN climate conference in Morocco said today.
These emerging advances in battery-based storage systems have been projected to make available solar and wind-driven electricity at about Rs 5 per unit, making the prices of these renewable energy sources close and competitive to the price of coal-based power, the analysts said.
"This is amazing, if these projections actually pan out, we could see a significant acceleration of the expansion of renewable energy everywhere, including India," said Ajay Mathur, the director general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a research think-tank in New Delhi.
Coal-fired thermal power plants currently make up about 60 per cent of India's installed electricity capacity; renewable energy sources, mainly wind and solar, contribute about 15 per cent; large hydroelectric stations make up 14 per cent; gas 8 per cent; nuclear 1.9 per cent; and diesel 0.3 per cent.
The Indian government has pledged to increase the country's installed solar power capacity from the current level of about 8,600 MW to 100,000 MW by 2022, and to raise the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources, primarily renewable and nuclear, in India's total installed energy capacity to 40 per cent by 2030.
However, the main barrier holding up the rapid scale-up of solar and wind power is the limited generation capacities of solar and wind stations because neither sunshine nor wind are available 24 hours a day, unlike a thermal power plant that can burn coal continuously.
But the France-based International Energy Agency has predicted major transformation in the global energy market over the next decades, with renewables and natural gas emerging as "big winners" to meet the energy demands up to the year 2040.
Senior TERI analysts said the IEA had also made technical projections of emerging battery storage technology that would help address the issue of limited sunshine and wind availability. These technology advances are expected to make available renewable energy dispatched to electricity utility companies round the clock, reducing the cost.
While coal-fired electricity is currently available for utilities in India for about Rs 3.5 per unit, the prices of coal electricity are likely to increase by about Rs 1 per unit under new thermal power plant standards mandated by the Indian government. "When this happens, coal prices will rise above Rs 4 per unit," Mathur said.
The IEA, in a report released during the climate meeting in Morocco, has predicted that coal consumption is expected to barely grow over the next 25 years as demand in China falls back through that country's efforts to fight air pollution and diversify the energy mix.
The annual conference brought together delegations from several countries to discuss strategies to curb or reduce Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change induced by global warming.
The expansion of renewable energy is a key component of these strategies. The IEA has predicted that renewables will remain the fastest-growing source of electricity generation, with their share globally rising from 23 per cent in 2015 to about 28 per cent in 2021.