India has made ambitious plans to increase the share of renewable energy in its overall power generation capacity in order to reduce carbon emissions and fuel imports. Integrating large amounts of renewable energy, especially solar and wind power, into the existing power grid poses significant technical and operational challenges.
One of the major challenges is the intermittent and variable nature of solar and wind power. The availability of power from solar panels and wind turbines fluctuates throughout the day and is dependent on weather conditions like sunlight or wind speed. This makes forecasting and scheduling the generation from renewable sources difficult for grid operators. India’s power grid has been designed and operated mainly for base load power plants like coal which provide stable and predictable output. Integrating intermittent sources on a large scale requires modernizing the grid and improving forecasting abilities.
Related to this is the challenge of maintaining grid stability and frequency in real-time as the proportion of intermittent sources grows. Unlike coal or gas plants which can increase or decrease output on demand, generation from solar and wind cannot be controlled or ramped up or down quickly. This poses issues in balancing demand and supply and adjusting quickly to shifts in renewable power availability. India will need to significantly improve its grid flexibility, energy storage capabilities and backup generation sources to balance intermittent renewable generation.
Lack of adequate power transmission infrastructure is another hindrance. Large solar parks and wind farms are often located far away from load centers necessitating long-distance transmission over stressed grids. Transmission bottlenecks and constraints limit the potential of renewable energy rich regions from fully utilizing their resources. Expanding and strengthening India’s transmission network, especially its HVDC and UHVDC capabilities, is critical. Laying new power lines is a capital intensive process involving multiple stakeholders and takes many years to complete new projects.
Land acquisition and obtaining necessary approvals from various government departments poses delays and cost overruns for renewable projects. Projects face uncertainty, time consuming clearance procedures and litigation over land disputes. Finding suitable land close to existing substations in locations with good solar irradiation or wind speeds itself can be difficult. Lack of dedicated transmission corridors exclusively for renewable energy projects further complicate right of way issues. Streamlining approval processes and using alternative financing models can help address these non-technical challenges.
Integrating large quantities of renewable energy also requires extensive changes to the existing power market designs and commercial frameworks. The prevalent energy-only market model based mainly on conventional generation needs reforms to accommodate clean energy sources that have near-zero marginal costs. Issues around forecast-based deviations, renewable portfolio obligations, open access rules and payment security mechanisms require resolution. State-level regulators will need to transition to more sophisticated market structures like ancillary service markets to procure balancing services from flexible resources.
Lack of reliable grid-scale energy storage is another significant barrier to large-scale renewable integration worldwide, including India. Storage technologies allow renewable power to be shifted from periods of excess production to times when power is most needed, thereby enhancing the flexibility and utilization of renewable assets. The high capital cost of utility-scale battery storage currently limits widespread commercial deployment. Technological breakthroughs and cost reductions are needed to make grid-scale energy storage economically viable in India.
India faces formidable technical, financial and institutional challenges in greatly increasing the share of variable renewable sources like solar and wind power in its energy mix while maintaining grid stability. Prudent long-term planning, ambitious transmission infrastructure expansion, energy market reforms, energy storage R&D and coordination across multiple stakeholders will be crucial to overcoming these challenges and to realize India’s renewable energy ambitions. With its strong commitment and concerted actions, India has the potential to emerge as a global leader in successfully integrating high quantities of clean energy onto its power system.