India Now Third Largest Solar Power Producer But Emissions Rise in 2023: Report

The Ember report said rising power demand forced India to increase its reliance on coal

May 10, 2024


India’s power sector emissions rose 7.2% in 2023 from the previous year as a decline in hydropower generation due to droughts, particularly in the second half of the year, offset gains from wind and solar output, according to a report from energy think tank Ember.

Hydropower generation fell by 15% in 2023, forcing an increased reliance on coal-fired power plants to meet demand. Around a quarter of the rise in coal generation was caused by the hydropower shortfall, with the remaining increase due to rapidly growing electricity demand, partly boosted by heatwaves and greater cooling requirements.

India’s weakened monsoon spell, coupled with the country’s strong GDP growth, added nearly 190 million tons of CO2 to global emissions in 2023, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. However, without the growing deployment of clean energy technologies since 2019, the growth of emissions would have been three times larger, the IEA said. According to Ember, India overtook Japan to become the third-largest solar power generator globally in 2023. But growth in clean electricity sources like wind and solar met only 30% of the increased demand.

Global power sector emissions

Wind and solar’s share in India’s electricity mix reached a record high of 9.9%, or 196 TWh, in 2023, compared to the global average of 13.4%.

Despite progress in renewable energy deployment, the report warned that wind, solar, and other low-carbon sources are not growing fast enough to meet India’s burgeoning power demand, leading to continuously rising emissions.

Power demand rose 5.4% to 99 TWh in 2023 compared to the previous year, which was more than twice the global pace. India’s clean electricity growth has surpassed the demand increase in only two previous years: 2019 due to good hydro conditions and 2020 because of a fall in pandemic-induced demand.

Coal Remains King

While India has ambitious renewable energy targets and is one of the few countries planning to triple its non-fossil fuel power capacity by 2030, coal remains dominant in meeting the nation’s energy needs.

Over the past two decades, coal power generation in India has increased nearly fourfold, from 390 TWh in 2000 to 1,480 TWh in 2023. The share of coal in the overall generation mix also rose from 68% to 75% during this period.

India had the second-highest increase in coal power globally in 2023 after China. The country’s emissions intensity, described as grams of carbon dioxide released per unit of energy produced, stood at 713 gCO2/kWh, higher than the global average.

The report said India needs to accelerate the deployment of clean energy sources to meet rising power demand without increasing emissions. Achieving this would require an annual growth rate of 27% for solar and 16% for wind.

Solar installations dropped 44.1% in 2023 due to project delays, with a capacity of 7.5 GW added against 13.4 GW in 2022, according to Mercom India’s Q4 & Annual 2023 India Solar Market Update.

India added 1.2 GW of new wind energy capacity in the first quarter of 2024, a 56% surge from 737.9 MW last year, according to Mercom India Research.

Global Renewables Expansion

In 2023, the growth in solar and wind took the world past 30% renewable electricity for the first time. Renewables have expanded from 19% of global electricity in 2000, driven by an increase in solar and wind from 0.2% in 2000 to a record 13.4% in 2023.

Solar in global electricity mix

China was the main contributor in 2023, accounting for 51% of the additional global solar generation and 60% of new global wind generation. Combined with nuclear, the world generated almost 40% of its electricity from low-carbon sources in 2023. Consequently, the CO2 intensity of global power generation reached a new record low, 12% lower than its peak in 2007.

The Ember report said global electricity demand rose to a record high in 2023, with an increase of 627 TWh, equivalent to adding the entire demand of Canada (+607 TWh). Over half of the electricity demand rise in 2023 was from five technologies: electric vehicles, heat pumps, electrolyzers, air conditioning, and data centers. The spread of these technologies will accelerate the growth in electricity demand.

The next phase of the energy transition over the coming decade will mean a permanent decline in fossil fuel use in the power sector at a global level is now inevitable, leading to falling sector emissions, the report said.