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World|environment|July 14, 2021 / 11:26 AM
India's Coal-dominated power market is tilting toward Solar Power

AKIPRESS.COM - A major new investment in renewables by the country’s largest power company may signal the beginning of the end for thermal energy, Bloomberg reports.

India’s largest power generator, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited, has long been a major player in coal-fired electricity.

But it has lately stepped into the renewables business, as have many other major power and industrial players in India, with a commitment, last year, to build 32 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2032. This week, it doubled up that commitment, raising its target to 60 gigawatts.

NTPC hasn’t said what its future renewable asset mix will be, but most of India’s renewables expansion will come from solar power. Were it to be entirely solar, 60 gigawatts of total capacity by 2032 would be approximately a fifth of India’s expected solar installations to that date. That’s not far off NTPC’s current power market share of 17%, more than 90% of which is fossil fuel-fired.

Any additional renewable power is good for India’s carbon intensity, but NTPC’s move also raises questions about the future of the nation’s coal fleet, which just might peak in the next decade. At the moment, solar is a pale shadow to India’s King Coal, which has about six times the installed capacity. However government projections and Bloomberg NEF analysis suggest that solar will overtake coal by the end of 2030. Solar capacity will expand 700% in the next 10 years; coal will expand, too, but only by 30%.

According to analysis by Bloomberg NEF, the power from newly-built solar capacity in India is now cheaper than the power from existing Indian gas and coal plants.

Even a slight restructuring, could change the coal profile. India’s still-growing coal fleet will peak, then fall. India’s once-National Thermal Power Company was for years the backbone of the country’s coal-fired power fleet growth. Its own renewables commitment might just be the thing to tilt that fleet into decline.

Meanwhile, US solar-technology firm CubicPV Inc. plans to invest as much as $1.1 billion to make equipment in India, drawn by government incentives.

“CubicPV is looking for an Indian partner to bid for the state benefits,” Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Frank van Mierlo said in an interview. “If it’s successful, it’ll set up solar wafer and cell manufacturing facilities in the country,” he added.

CubicPV hopes to set up 2 gigawatts of wafer and cell production capacity with an investment of about $350 million, while its partner would invest in a similar capacity of modules, the CEO said. CubicPV would later expand wafer and cell capacity to 10 gigawatts a year, with a total investment of $1.1 billion, he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to spur domestic manufacturing in a range of sectors, to create jobs and revive an economy hard-hit by the Covid-19 crisis. In the solar industry, the push to make more cells and panels at home is aimed at curbing reliance on China, which accounts for 80% of supplies.

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