Published on May 13th, 2014 | by Stith


Can India Go 100% Renewable by 2050?

May 13th, 2014 by  

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and are not intended to represent the views or policies of the United States Department of Energy or the United States. The article was not prepared as part of the writer’s official duties at the United States Department of Energy.

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By 2050, India could go 100% on Renewable Energy to create a sustainable energy future.

By Darshan Goswami

IndiaFIIn the coming years, India will face seemingly insurmountable challenges to its economy, environment and energy security. To overcome these challenges, India needs to shift to non-polluting sources of energy.

As Jeremy Rifkin, an economist and activist, said in New Delhi in January 2012: “India is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy sources and, if properly utilized, India can realize its place in the world as a great power — but political will is required for the eventual shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also has recommended that the world needs a major shift in investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

India has tremendous energy needs, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet those needs through traditional means of power generation. More than 40% of rural Indian households don’t have electricity. While India is developing domestic energy sources to satisfy the growing demand, it’s also anxious about having to import increasing amounts of fossil fuels that exacerbate the trade deficit and can be harmful to the environment. Coal imports hit a record high during the last fiscal year and will likely rise further over the next five years since India aims to expand its power-generation capacity by 44%.

The country’s inability to generate clean, affordable power is also a major constraint to achieving energy security. The present centralized model of power generation, transmission and distribution is growing more and more costly to maintain and, at the same time, restricts the flexibility required to meet growing energy demands. India needs to encourage a decentralized business model to take advantage of abundantly available renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, biogas, geothermal and hydrogen energy, and fuel cells more readily.

India is blessed with an abundance of these resources, yet it spends millions of rupees to import oil, coal and natural gas, resulting in enormous amounts of renewable energy being unused/wasted. To that end, renewable resources are the most attractive investment because they will also provide long-term economic growth for India.

To secure its energy future, India urgently needs to design/implement innovative policies and mechanisms to promote increased use of abundant, sustainable, renewable resources. All of India’s future energy demand could be met by utility-scale and rooftop PV, concentrated solar power, onshore and offshore wind, geothermal, and conventional hydropower.

This would require building many more solar power systems and wind farms, hybrid solar-natural gas plants, solar thermal storage and advanced battery-based grid energy storage systems. Investment in these technologies would create millions of new jobs and an economic stimulus of at least $1 trillion, and perhaps much more if all indirect effects are included. Other major changes involve use of electric vehicles and the development of enhanced smart grids. Making the transition to 100% renewable energy is both possible and affordable.

What Needs To Be Done? 

Instead of an overarching energy strategy, India has a number of disparate policies. To date, India has developed a cluster of energy business models and policies that have obstructed adoption of renewable energy expansion plans. This present approach threatens India’s economic competitiveness, national security and the environment. India must fundamentally transform the manner in which it produces, distributes and consumes energy to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, create jobs, enhance global competitiveness and decrease carbon emissions.

The Indian government has taken several measurable steps toward improving infrastructure and power reliability (such as development of renewable energy from solar and wind), clearly more needs to be done — and fast. One step in the right direction was the establishment of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) in late 2009. However, the present JNNSM target of producing 10% of the country’s energy from solar — 20GW by 2022 — is totally inadequate.

IndiaInsertJNNSM needs to take bolder steps, with the help of central and state governments, to play a greater role in realizing India’s solar energy potential. One such step would be establishment of a nationwide solar initiative to facilitate deployment of 100 million solar roofs and utility-scale generation installations within the next 20 years. In achieving such a goal, India could become a major player and international leader in solar energy for years to come.

In addition, developing off-grid powered micro-grids have the potential to change the way communities generate and use energy, and can reduce costs, increase reliability and improve environmental performance. Micro-grids can be used to take substantial electrical load off the existing power grid and so reduce the need for building new or expanding existing transmission and distribution systems.

Renewable Energy Potential in India

Renewable energy is the only technology that offers India the theoretical potential to service all its long-term power requirements. The Indian subcontinent is blessed with abundant renewable energy resources. For instance, taking advantage of 300 to 330 sunny days a year, India could easily generate 5000 trillion kWh of solar energy, which is higher than India’s total yearly energy consumption. Even if a tenth of this potential was used, it could mark the end of India’s power problems. Using the country’s deserts and farm land, India could easily install around 1,000 GW of solar generation — equivalent to around four times the current peak power demand (India’s present generation capacity is about 210 GW).

Wind energy can also help India convert to 100% renewable energy. According to the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), while India has no estimates of its offshore wind potential, up to 170 GW could be installed by 2050 along the 4660 miles of coastline. Hydropower could generate an estimated 148 GW, geothermal around 10.7 GW and tidal power about 15 GW.

If these abundantly available resources were properly developed and used, all of India’s new energy production could be derived from renewable energy sources by 2030. In addition, all existing generation could be converted to renewable energy by 2050 while maintaining a reliable power supply in the interim. Barriers to implementing the renewable energy plan are seen to be primarily social and political, not technological or economic.

10 Strategies That India Can Implement, Beginning Today

To reach the goal of 100% of renewable energy by 2050 the following steps are recommended.

  1. Aggressively expand large-scale deployment of both centralized and distributed renewable energy including solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal to ease the strain on the present transmission and distribution system — and allow more off-grid populations to be reached.
  2. Facilitate growth in large-scale deployment by installing 100 million solar roofs and large utility-scale solar generation, through both centralized and distributed energy, within the next 20 years.
  3. Enact a National Renewable Energy Standard/Policy of 20% by 2020 — to create demand, new industries and innovation, and a new wave of green jobs.
  4. Develop favorable government policies to ease the permitting process, and to provide start-up capital to promote the exponential growth of renewable energy. Create and fund a national smart infrastructure bank for renewable energy.
  5. Accelerate local demand for renewable energy by providing preferential Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) and other incentives such as accelerated depreciation; tax holidays; renewable energy funds; initiatives for international partnerships/collaboration, incentives for new technologies; human resources development; zero import duty on capital equipment and raw materials; excise duty exemption; and low interest rate loans.
  6. Phase out all conventional energy subsidies. Force petroleum products to compete with other fuels like biomass and biogas, etc.
  7. Accelerate the development and implementation of cost-effective energy efficiency standards to reduce the long term demand for energy. Engage states, industrial companies, utility companies and other stakeholders to accelerate this investment.
  8. Initiate a move to electrify automotive transportation or develop electric vehicles — plug-in hybrids — such as the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, or Chevy Volt, etc. Develop and implement time-of-day pricing to encourage charging of cars at night. Adopt nationwide charging of electric cars from solar panels on roofs and solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations around the country. Thousands of these solar-powered recharging stations could spread across India just like the present public call office (PCO), giving birth to a “Green Revolution.” These recharging connections could be deployed at highly-concentrated areas including shopping malls, motels, restaurants, and public places where vehicles are usually parked for extended periods.
  9. Aggressively invest in a smart, two-way grid (and micro-grid). Invest in smart meters, as well as reliable networks that can accommodate the two-way flow of electricity. Such networks need to be resilient enough to avoid blackouts and accommodate the advanced power generation technologies of the future. Develop large-scale solar manufacturing in India (transforming India into a global solar manufacturing hub). Promote and establish utility-scale solar and wind generation parks and farms. Also, establish R&D facilities within academia, research institutions, industry, government and private entities to guide technology development.
  10. Work towards a hydrogen economy development plan. Hydrogen can be fed into fuel cells for generating heat and electricity, as well as for powering fuel cell vehicles. Produce hydrogen from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. If done successfully, hydrogen and electricity will eventually become society’s primary energy carriers for the twenty-first century.


Renewable forms of energy (especially solar and wind) could enhance India’s energy security and represent a bright spot in its economic and environmental future. If India switched from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants, it is possible that 70% of the electricity and 35% of its total energy could be derived from renewable resources by 2030.

Excess energy generated from renewable could be stored in various forms such as molten or liquid salt (a mixture of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate); compressed air; pumped hydro; hydrogen, battery storage, etc. This stored energy could then be used during times of peak demand.

India can ramp up its efforts to develop and implement large utility-scale solar energy farms to meet the country’s economic development goals, while creating energy independence and bringing potentially enormous environmental benefits. Both issues have a direct influence on national security and the health of the Indian economy.

Supplying nearly 100 % of India’s energy demand through the use of clean renewable energy from solar, wind, hydro and biogas, etc. by 2050 is technically and economically feasible. But, a number of political barriers must be overcome. As examples of needed reforms, Denmark’s Parliament has passed the most ambitious green economy plan to generate 35% of its energy from renewable energy by 2020 and 100% by 2050. Iceland, Scotland and the Philippines, have recently announced impressive plans to obtain 100% of their power from renewable energy. Three years after Japan’s nuclear meltdown, the Japanese province of Fukushima has pledged to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2040.

A future powered by renewable energy is already here, not decades away. Comparisons of costs per kilowatt hour of electricity produced show that newly built solar and wind plants are already considerably cheaper than new nuclear plants. In coming years solar and wind energy will compete more and more favorably with conventional energy generation and, in places such as California and Italy, have already reached so-called grid parity.

Renewable energy (especially solar and wind) is a game-changer for India: It has the potential to re-energize India’s economy by creating millions of new jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce the trade deficit and propel India forward as a “Green Nation.” Providing 100% renewable energy is not a fantasy for someday, but a reality today. India has a golden opportunity to solve three huge problems — reducing poverty, ensuring energy security and combating climate change — but it must act soon. India can no longer afford to delay renewable energy deployment to meet its future energy needs.

Darshan Goswami has more than 40 years of experience in the energy field. He is currently working as a Project Manager for Renewable Energy and Smart Grid projects at the United States Department of Energy (DOE) in Pittsburgh. Goswami is a registered professional electrical engineer with a passion and commitment to promote, develop and deploy renewable energy resources and the hydrogen economy.

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About the Author

Chip Martin is an award-winning writer, scholarship-winning saxophone player and long-time solar advocate. As the industry grew exponentially, Martin decided to enter the fray on behalf of the solar industry. You can read him at CleanTechnica, Red, Green and Blue and Solar Wakeup, as he does his best to spread the solar gospel.

  • Here is Point 11, Which above article completely missed

    Low interest long term financing is the only way to encourage private investors and citizens to look at solar as an opportunity to set up a recurring income stream

    International low interest financing is only available for projects of 5+ MW scale in India, with current domestic interest rates hovering above 12%, it would not be possible for pure play solar investors to be profitable by setting up a solar plant of MW scale, REC markets just does not exist, Only Corporates who are willing to leverage the AD benefits and are interested in setting up MW scale projects with current policies

    Getting solar projects funded under MW scale continues to be a challenge, as financial institutions don’t see Solar as profitable model, they have stricter underwriting guidelines for Solar projects which often require 2x or 3x collateral against the total financing amount

    Discoms should offer open PPAs to any one who is interested in setting up a solar plant at any scale from MW to KW, Government should offer low interest financing to facilitate new projects of all sizes from KW to MW

    Low interest long term financing coupled with PPAs for commercial sector and FIT for residential sector are key for India becoming energy independent

    Government should move away from subsidized electricity, so discoms can operate without losses

    MNRE should mandate each state discom to procure renewable energy not less than 10% of the total energy procurement with a 10% escalation each year, discoms would do everything in their power to either directly invest on renewable projects or will encourage private investors and Citizens to invest in Solar

    With 10% escalation clause, India will be 100% energy independent under 10 years with renewable energy

    Private Citizens and businesses will be forced to go Solar as it makes financial sense and with low interest long term financing, they would not spending more than what they are spending today on their utility bills and they would be making money for going solar by selling excess power to discoms

    Bottom line when going solar makes financial sense subsidies are not required, an entire new eco system gets created around solar, which adds millions of jobs in manufacturing and service industry in solar sector

    Don’t subsidize electricity at Rs 2/KWH instead let market decide the price and provide an opportunity for everyone to profit from this revolution

    Above model was implemented successfully in Germany which gets half the amount of solar radiation and only half the amount of time compared to India

    If Germany can do it, India should too, it has 400% advantage over Germany when it comes to Solar

    It requires commitment, persistence and political will to implement such a model

    • sivadasan

      Read article “Make India a 100% renewable energy nation” published in the June –July 2014 edition of Journal Energy Blitz

  • patb2009

    India should concentrate on wind energy, the relative technology is simpler and the yield of energy is higher. As they master solar manufacturing they can expand that.

    • Bob_Wallace


      One can learn to install basic solar systems in a few hours. Tens of thousands of micro-solar systems are being installed each month on the subcontinent.

  • Matt

    So really which region of the world couldn’t go 100% renewable by 2050; Doubly so since this appears to be talking electric not total energy. It is only a matter of will.

  • Banned by Bob

    India seems to be the equivalent of what Brazil used to be. Full of so much potential, but never seeming to getting its act together. Let’s hope that the next generation of Indian leaders can change that.

    • Ronald Brakels

      India manage to get over 10% economic growth in 2010. Their economy has really taken off since 2002. While with hindsight it’s always possible to see how things could have been done even better, India’s economic performance has been extremely good over the past 12 years, even taking into account their current economic slowdown.

  • JamesWimberley

    The Gandhian value of self-sufficiency works both for and against the energy transition in India. For, because at the local level it is a perfect fit with distributed and community generation using wind and solar energy, and at the national level with the legitimate desire for energy independence, Against, because it supports protectionist barriers to the best practice and technology developed outside India (see the current row over poor-quality local pv modules). India is a huge market, and it will make commercial sense for suppliers to build plants there without red tape.

    Rivkin’s sales pitch that “India is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy sources” is a mistake. One of the great benefits of renewables is that nobody will be the Saudi Arabia that can hold the world to ransom. Everybody has plentiful resources. There will be trade to capture comparative advantages, but it will be moderate and un-coerced. Denmark imports Norwegian hydro electricity to balance its wind farms because it’s cheaper than building its own storage, which it could.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I think some people overlook the problem of water in India. Thermal plants use water, wind and solar don’t.

      Coal needs large amounts of water for both coal cleaning and plants cooling. Dry cooling can be used with coal and nuclear but that increases their cost, making them even less competitive.

      India has to deal with the problem of disappearing glaciers which means that dry season supplies will drop. It will be necessary to store more water from the monsoons. The cost of storing water for coal and nuclear would be immense.

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      Perhaps due to conversations with members of my own family that are from India, but the statement about being the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy was taken in a different way. More of a desire for self reliance and control of their own destinies rather than attempting to control anyone else’s energy. Which has also been seen in other acquaintances from India and Pakistan, the strong desire for self reliance, perhaps because they are the ones that have managed to make it to the states, and what they see as a better opportunity.
      Now if only we can get the politicos in place that realize that this plan is totally feasible for the US if we try.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Sometimes the US is referred to as the Saudi Arabia of wind.

        It applies to the strength of the resource, nothing about market domination.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Whenever I hear anything described as the Saudi Arabia of anything I think, “So production is falling, it requires massive capital spending simply to prevent production falling even faster than it is, and no one in a position of authority will give a straight answer about what is really going on.” It really doesn’t seem like a compliment to me.

          But I will mention that while current extraction rates are obviously unsustainable, Saudi Arabia can produce a small quantity of oil at reasonably low cost for hundreds or technically thousands of years. It’s not like a bottle of orange juice where once it’s empty its empty, it’s more like an actual orange. You get most of the juice out with the first good squeeze, and then you can continue to get a small amount of juice by putting more and more effort into it until finally you’re scraping the pulp off the rind with your teeth.

    • globi

      Keep also in mind that Norway needs to import electricity in the winter as there is little precipitation and snowmelt in the winter. On the other hand Denmark is producing a surplus of wind energy in the winter.

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