Nuclear power should be an integral part of India’s clean energy transition
The share of nuclear power in electricity generation in India (3%) is far behind major economies. its growth will require strong State support. India must include it in its clean energy matrix
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement at the Glasgow Summit that India will achieve the target of net-zero emission by 2070 has underlined India’s commitment to battling the climate crisis. The speech highlighted India’s development imperative. It also aligned India’s position with a goal widely accepted by the international community.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has called upon countries to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. India needs a longer transition period. We have to combine growth with emission-reduction. The choice is easier for countries that have already reached a high level of industrialisation.
It is striking that the debate on climate is taking place against the background of a sharp hike in electricity prices in Europe, and coal shortages in China and India.
The slowing down of the winds over the North Sea in early September, coupled with the rising gas prices, resulted in a sharp increase in electricity prices in Europe. The drop in wind power led to increased demand for gas at a time when the supply situation was tight. Wind accounted for 24% and 23.7% of electricity generation in the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany respectively in 2020. Renewables are an intermittent source of power. But this needs to be backed up by an alternative source of energy when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. This “balancing” power is supplied by gas in Europe. Even before the current crisis broke out, Germany had the highest electricity tariff in the world. According to Bloomberg, the cost of renewable power to German consumers reached $38 billion in 2020.
The IEA report has suggested that there be no new investment in oil and gas production or new coal mines. The problems caused by the temporary shortage of coal in China and India show how difficult this task is. Coal accounts for 71% of India’s electricity generation. While developed countries stress the need to phase out coal, they have retained fossil fuel as a major source in their energy basket. The share of fossil fuels in Germany and the UK is 40.5% and 37.7%. The percentage of gas in Germany’s energy basket will go up with the Nordstrom II pipeline coming on stream. Germany will retain coal (lignite) in its energy basket till 2037. According to a Financial Times report citing official American figures, the United States (US)’s coal consumption for power generation will rise by 20% this year. China is the largest coal-consuming country in the world and authorised 37 GW of new coal-based power plants in 2020.
An MIT study in 2018 pointed out that without the contribution of nuclear power, “the cost of achieving deep decarbonization targets increases significantly”. The nuclear power tariff of ₹3.47 per unit in 2019 already compares favourably with the cost of renewables with storage solutions that exceed ₹4 per unit.
India needs a diversified energy basket, of which a key pillar must be nuclear power. Nuclear power is part of the Clean Energy Standard of the US. Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced in Parliament, “It’s crucial that we re-start nuclear power plants.” The share of nuclear power in electricity generation in India (3%) is far behind those of other major economies — the US (20%) and the European Union (20%). China proposes to increase its share of nuclear to 10%. The growth of nuclear power will require strong government support. Nuclear power should be included in India’s clean energy matrix and given a “must-run status”.
DP Srivastava is a former ambassador and coordinator of VIF’s Task Force on India’s Energy Transition
The views expressed are personal