India 2020

Energy policy review
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In this report

This first in-depth review of India’s energy policies examines the country’s achievements in developing its energy sector as well as the challenges it faces in ensuring a sustainable energy future. With an impressive track record of expanding access to electricity and clean cooking for its citizens and swiftly deploying renewable energy technologies, India offers an inspiring example for many countries around the world.

This report provides insights into the rise of India in global energy markets. It analyses the full breadth of the country’s energy sector and presents recommendations for strengthening energy policies in various areas. These include advancing energy market reforms, notably in power and gas markets; integrating higher shares of variable renewables; addressing air and water quality; and reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Executive summary

With a population of 1.4 billion and one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies, India will be vital for the future of the global energy markets. The Government of India has made impressive progress in recent years in increasing citizens’ access to electricity and clean cooking. It has also successfully implemented a range of energy market reforms and carried out a huge amount of renewable electricity deployment, notably in solar energy.

Looking ahead, the government has laid out an ambitious vision to bring secure, affordable and sustainable energy to all its citizens. This in-depth review aims to assist the government in meeting its energy policy objectives by setting out a range of recommendations in each area, with a focus on energy system transformation, energy security and energy affordability. The review also highlights a number of important lessons from the rapid development of India’s energy sector that could help inform the plans of other countries around the world.

Ensuring Indian citizens have access to electricity and clean cooking has been at the top of the country’s political agenda. Around 700 million people in India gained access to electricity between 2000 and 2018, reflecting strong and effective policy implementation. The IEA highly commends the Government of India for this outstanding result and supports its efforts to shift the focus towards reaching isolated areas and ensuring round-the-clock reliability of electricity supply.

The government of India has also made significant progress in reducing the use of traditional biomass in cooking, the chief cause of indoor air pollution that particularly affects women and children. The government has encouraged clean cooking with liquefied petroleum gas. India continues to promote cleaner cooking and off-grid electrification solutions, including a shift toward using solar photovoltaics (PV) for cooking and charging batteries.

The IEA commends India for its continuous pursuit of market opening and greater use of market-based solutions through ambitious energy sector reforms. Increased access to affordable energy has raised the living standards of all segments of the population.

India now has the institutional framework it needs to attract more investment for its growing energy needs. The IEA welcomes the government’s decisions to allow private-sector investment in coal mining, and to open up the country’s oil and gas retail markets. The creation of functioning energy markets will ensure economic efficiency in the management of the coal, gas and power sectors, which is critical to achieving energy security and supporting the country’s economic growth. This will be increasingly important in the future, as energy demand and investment needs increase in line with India’s economic expansion.

Reform of India’s electricity sector will need to be comprehensive to achieve these goals. The IEA welcomes the reforms proposed by the Central Energy Regulatory Commission (CERC) and progress made towards improved real-time markets. A country-wide wholesale market is very much needed as a backbone for the national grid. Key to this success will be building a joint vision and a common reform roadmap among a broad range of central government agencies, state authorities, system operators and utilities.

India also faces the challenge of ensuring the financial health of its power sector which is dealing with surplus capacity, lower utilisation of coal and natural gas plants, and increasing shares of variable renewable energy. The government is working to improve the financial viability of the power sector. Faced with the challenge of some “stressed assets” in coal and gas-fired generation, it has been implementing a package of measures to enhance the economic efficiency of coal and gas supply for power generation and the availability of finance. The creation of a competitive wholesale power market will be vital for improving the utilisation of India’s generation capacity. 

India’s electricity security has improved markedly through the creation of a single national power system and major investments in thermal and renewable capacity. India’s power system is currently experiencing a major shift to higher shares of variable renewable energy, which is making system integration and flexibility priority issues. The Government of India has supported greater interconnections across the country and now requires the existing coal fleet to operate more flexibly. It is also promoting affordable battery storage.

International experience suggests that a diverse mix of flexibility investments is needed for the successful system integration of wind and solar PV. This flexibility is available not only from the coal fleet – it can also come from natural gas capacity, variable renewables themselves, energy storage, demand-side response and power grids. Many of these solutions are not yet fully utilised in India. To fully activate a diverse set of flexibility options, it is critical for the government to put in place electricity market reforms that enable the appropriate price signals and create a robust regulatory framework.

India’s coal supply has increased rapidly since the early 2000s, and coal continues to be the largest domestic source of energy supply and electricity generation. Amid more stringent air pollution regulations, new coal power plants that are more efficient, flexible and relatively lower in emissions will be better positioned for their economic viability. By contrast, old and inefficient plants, which require expensive retrofits to comply with environmental standards, are in a difficult position. The government is identifying those plants that can and will need to run more flexibly in the system. It is also examining changes to market design to improve the remuneration of the system services they can provide. An efficient coal sector is critically important not only for electricity generation, but also for industrial development in areas such as steel, cement and fertilisers.

India is the world’s third‑largest consumer of oil, the fourth‑largest oil refiner and a net exporter of refined products. The rate of growth of India’s oil consumption is expected to surpass that of the People’s Republic of China in the mid-2020s, making India a very attractive market for refinery investment. To maintain India’s position as refining hub, the government is pursuing a very ambitious long-term roadmap to expand its refining capacity in line with the country’s projected demand growth through 2040. As proven oil reserves are limited compared with domestic needs, India’s import dependency (above 80% in 2018) is going to increase significantly in the coming decades.

To improve oil security, the government has prioritised reducing oil imports, increasing domestic upstream activities, diversifying its sources of supply and increasing Indian investments in overseas oil fields in the Middle East and Africa. Commendably, India is promoting domestic production with a major upstream reform, the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licencing Policy (HELP), and is progressively building up dedicated emergency oil stocks. India’s strategic petroleum reserve supplements the commercial storage available at refineries. India’s current strategic reserve capacity of 40 million barrels can cover just over 10 days of current net imports. However, given the expected growth in oil consumption, the same volume may cover only four days of net imports in 2040. Therefore, it is important that the government pursue the second phase of its strategic stockholding policy, which would add an additional 50 million barrels, and also prepares subsequent phases. The IEA welcomes the government’s efforts to intensify discussions with potential investors and supports India’s collaboration with countries that have varied and comprehensive experience in stockholding and response capabilities.

The government aims to increase the share of natural gas in the country’s energy mix to 15% by 2030, from 6% today. The IEA welcomes this ambition, which would allow India to improve the environmental sustainability and flexibility of its energy system. Increasing domestic gas production has been a key government priority, as output has unexpectedly come in below forecast levels over the past few years. India has five operating terminals for liquefied natural gas. Projects under construction could result in up to 11 additional terminals over the next seven years.

The role of gas has grown in India’s residential and transport sectors but fallen in power generation, where imported natural gas remains squeezed by cheap renewables and coal. The government is committed to further liberalising the country’s natural gas market. Strengthening regulatory supervision of upstream, midstream and downstream activities should be part of the market reforms, as it is likely to bring greater efficiency and drive up demand for gas and investment in gas transport infrastructure. A liquid and well-functioning domestic gas market would be a strong pillar for India’s security of gas supply. 

India has made important progress towards meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal 7 on delivering energy access. Both the energy and emission intensities of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) have decreased by more than 20% over the past decade. This represents commendable progress even as total energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to rise. India’s per capita emissions today are 1.6 tonnes of CO2, well below the global average of 4.4 tonnes, while its share of global total CO2 emissions is some 6.4%.

India is an active player at international fora in the fight against climate change. The country’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement sets out targets to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its power generation capacity while also creating an additional carbon sink by increasing forest and tree cover. Although the emissions intensity of India’s GDP has decreased in line with targeted levels, progress towards a low-carbon electricity supply remains challenging.

India has taken significant steps to improve energy efficiency, which have avoided an additional 15% of annual energy demand and 300 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over the period 2000‑18, according to IEA analysis. The major programmes target industry and business, relying on large-scale public procurement of efficient products such as LEDs and the use of tradable energy efficiency certificates. The government’s LED programme has radically pushed down the price of the products in the global market and helped create local manufacturing jobs to meet the demand for energy-efficient lighting.

Based on current policies, India’s energy demand could double by 2040, with electricity demand potentially tripling as a result of increased appliance ownership and cooling needs. Without significant improvements in energy efficiency, India will need to add massive amounts of power generation capacity to meet demand from the 1 billion air-conditioning units the country is expected to have by 2050. By raising the level of its energy efficiency ambition, India could save some USD 190 billion per year in energy imports by 2040 and avoid electricity generation of 875 terawatt hours per year, almost half of India’s current annual power generation.

Recent IEA analysis shows that in 2018, India’s investment in solar PV was greater than in all fossil fuel sources of electricity generation together. Large-scale auctions have contributed to swift renewable energy development at rapidly decreasing prices. By December 2019, India had deployed a total of 84 GW of grid-connected renewable electricity capacity. By comparison, India’s total generating capacity reached 366 GW in 2019. India is making progress towards its target of 175 GW of renewables by 2022. In September 2019, the prime minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, announced that India’s electricity mix would eventually include 450 GW of renewable energy capacity. Progress towards these targets will require a focus on unlocking the flexibility needed for effective system integration. This can potentially be achieved by improving the design of renewables auctions, with clear trajectories and criteria to reflect quality, location and system value, along with measures to foster grid expansion and demand-side response across India.

India has been addressing energy-related environmental pollution since the 1980s, including air, water, land and waste issues. Reducing the health impacts of air pollution is a key priority. Over the years, the government has been progressively strengthened rules to combat air pollution, and adopted the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which focuses on monitoring and enforcement. Real progress on the ground has so far been limited, with the deadline for the enforcement of stringent air pollution standards for thermal power plants pushed back from 2017 to 2021/22. However, the implementation of the NCAP is expected to help improve this issue.

India is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts and is exposed to growing water stress, storms, floods and other extreme weather events. Adaptation and resilience of the energy system to these extreme climate conditions should be a high political priority. Furthermore, the energy sector is a large water user. As India’s energy demand continues to grow, the government should ensure that energy planning takes into account the water–energy nexus, as well as future space cooling needs.

Energy research, development and deployment (RD&D) can be a strong enabler of India’s energy policy goals while also contributing to broader national priorities such as the “Make in India” manufacturing initiative. Through the initiative, the government is working to attract global companies to produce solar PV, lithium batteries, solar charging infrastructure and other advanced technologies in India. The government is strengthening its innovation efforts in a broad range of energy technology areas, including cooling, electric mobility, smart grids and advanced biofuels.

India’s innovation-specific policy support have been important in driving energy technology development. As part of its climate policy agenda, the government has pursued a mission-based approach in many policy areas, including solar, water and energy. India has also been a leader in Mission Innovation and other multilateral collaborations, including the IEA Technology Collaboration Programmes. Recent years have shown a marked increase in clean energy RD&D funding, especially as India works to double its spending over five years under Mission Innovation. However, funding efforts are spread both thinly and widely across the government and its public sector companies.

India could benefit from integrating RD&D priorities with broader energy policy goals. Adopting an overarching energy RD&D strategy would provide a framework for co‑ordinating the widespread activities of ministries that are engaged in directing, performing and funding energy RD&D. It would also support the engagement of private and public industry actors. Such an endeavour would benefit from the consistent collection and monitoring of energy RD&D data.

Under the leadership of the prime minister, NITI Aayog fulfils an inter-ministerial co‑ordinating role for national energy policy. A number of different ministries have responsibility for separate components of the energy sector. As energy policies become more intertwined, it is becoming increasingly desirable to strengthen co‑ordination and develop a framework for the government’s long-term energy agenda. This is particularly needed to create visibility for all stakeholders in the energy sector. The draft National Energy Policy by NITI Aayog, currently under consultation, is an excellent framework and should be adopted swiftly to guide policy making, implementation and enforcement across central and state governments.

Good quality and timely energy data are vital for monitoring, reviewing progress and enforcing the implementation of energy policies. The government has identified the critical importance of energy data and is taking action to improve their collection and dissemination. The IEA welcomes recent progress in the bilateral relationship between India and the IEA on energy statistics, which has led to the creation of cross-ministerial working groups co‑ordinated by NITI Aayog.