Can India Go 100% Renewable by 2050?

Posted on May 28, 2014
Posted By: Darshan Goswami

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

Courtesy: Solar Energy Bay

In 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," and adding "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 is becoming increasingly difficult to meet those needs through traditional means of power generation.  Over 40% of rural Indian households don't have electricity.  While India is developing domestic energy sources to satisfy the growing demand, it is 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 in order to more readily take advantage of abundantly available renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, biogas, geothermal and hydrogen energy, and fuel cells.  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 that 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 US $1 trillion, and perhaps much more if all indirect (ripple) 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, but requires political support.

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 Government of India 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.  JNNSM needs to take bolder steps, with the help of central and state Governments, in order 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

 Courtesy: PS10 Solar Power Tower                      Courtesy: Arizona Solar Energy Farm                     Courtesy: The Solar Settlement Freiburg Germany

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 300-330 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 utilized, 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 7,500 km 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 utilized, 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.  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;

  • 2. 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;

  • 3. 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;

  • 4. 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.

  • 5. Phase out all conventional energy subsidies.  Force petroleum products to compete with other fuels like biomass and biogas, etc.;

  • 6. 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;

  • 7. 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 the "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;

  • 8. 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;

  • 9. 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 almost 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.


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.

Authored By:
Darshan Goswami has over 40 years of experience in the energy field. He is retired from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) as a Project Manager for Renewable Energy, Smart and Micro Grids in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. He retired as a Chief of Energy Forecasting and Renewable Energy from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC. Earlier, he worked for 30 years at Duquesne Light Company,

Other Posts by: Darshan Goswami

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May, 28 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

I'm Writing my 14th book just now. 14 is an important number for me, aside from the fact that an arrogant Young man named Fred Banks was was bounced out of an engineering University for poor scholarshiåp - for failing Everything. .

But no matter how dumb Fred was - or is - with his fixation on the number 14, he was a genius as compared to the people running most of the countries in the World. and especially their advisers and philosophers. For example, India is filled with intelligent men and women, but yet they didn't make a peep while the population in that country was on its way whatever it is today, but shouldn't be. And to top that the author of this article really and truly Believes that wind and solar can cure India's ills.

Back to the number 14 and my next book. What I am not going to do in that work is to tell the bizarre lie that renewable energy sources are going to make things better in countries like India. Instead renewables, if employed en-masse and efficiency, will enable India's strugging masses to struggle on for Another Century or so at the present standard of living. What about forgetting about renewables and turning to e.g. nuclear? No way G.I., as the Young ladies used to say outside our camp in Japan, because when you are going nowhere, it doesn't make any difference which road you decide to take. . .

May, 29 2014

Darshan Goswami says

Nuclear is not a safe option for the future of mankind because “NUCLEAR IS AN UNETICAL AND EXPENSIVE OPTION.”

Nuclear energy is the most expensive energy option for India. Eminent scientists have estimated that the cost per mega-watt would be Rs. 11.1 crore from imported nuclear reactors. The prime minister has announced a target of 40,000 MW of nuclear power. If 30,000 MW of this were to come from foreign reactors, it will cost us R3,30,000 crore. The same amount of thermal energy would cost Rs. 1,20,000 crore. Using gas or hydral generation, the cost would be only R90,000 crore. By using the nuclear option for generating 30,000 MW, India would be spending anywhere beyond Rs. 2 lakh crore more than by using the available alternatives. Can we afford such an expensive option?

World is on a path to eliminate the use of Nuclear Energy Completely. Here are some examples: • The Fukushima tragedy in Japan may signal the tipping point of worldwide nuclear power construction • Italy and German Saying Goodbye to Nuclear? • China Postponing inst. of 28 New Nuclear Power Plants • USA re-evaluating Future Nuclear Power Plants • Siemens pulls out of nuclear energy business • Japanese celebrate the switching off of the last of their nation's 50 nuclear reactors Saturday May 5, 2012. India should seriously consider shifting strategy from Nuclear to 100% renewable by 2050. Darshan Goswami

June, 03 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Interesting comment, and completely wrong. The total number of nuclear installations increases every year. Even the ignorant Ernest Moniz knows that, and if you ask him or his secretary they will tell you. As for Japan, remember the following folks: Japan and Germany will be the most nuclear intensive countries in the World by mid-Century.

Wait a minute...wait a minute, don't ask the ignorant Moniz. Ask Adam Sieminski, who is the top Economist. He'll tell you.what is going on in the nuclear World.

I'll sum it up for you and other readers. India, America, Shangri-La might give up fossil fuels and fuel Wood, but they will never give up nuclear.

June, 06 2014

Don Hirschberg says

I understand India is increasing the capacity of their rail system to carry more coal. India's population continues to grow, soon to eclipse the population of China. I understand many Indians cook their food using gathered twigs as fuel. I read that 100s(?) of millions of Indians must defecate in the open. Hundreds of million of Indians subsist with little or no electric service.Those who do have service need their own diesel generators if they must have electricity during the frequent outages.

Seems to me a project to build privies makes far more sense than increasing the cost of electricity.

June, 06 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

I am sorry to say Darshan that your view of nuclear power is completely wrong when you say "World is on a path to eliminate the use of Nuclear Energy Completely"

Examples to refute your claim.

1. United Arab Emirates is building four nuclear power plants as we speak. 2. Saudi Arabia (yes the one with all that oil) is spending $80 billion to build 16 new nuclear power plants for water and electricity production. 3. China has 30 nuclear power plants under construction right now and over 100 more in advanced planning stages. Three of those 3 are already on line and producing power. 4. Argentina has just started operating its third nuclear power plant this week. 5. Finland is building two more nuclear power plants. 6. France is building a new plant at Flamanville. 7. The UK is building Hinkley Point C and has plans for many others to replace its ageing fleet. 8. Russia has 121 nuclear power plants under construction.

In total there are 71 nuclear reactors being constructed as I write this and hundreds more are planned.

Dozens of countries are turning or returning to nuclear power. Some have existing facilities like the UK and the US but many others like Vietnam, Armenia and others are embarking on brand new nuclear power programs of their own. It is a fact that there are more reactors currently under construction now than before Fukushima and that process is rapidly accelerating.

So I can only point out to you that what you have said is patently not correct.

All these are verifiable facts. You can get the names of all 71 reactors from the World Nuclear Association website. If you cannot I will provide them to you.

And, far from being dangerous as you wrongly claim, nuclear power is the safest industry in the world by an order of magnitude at least. Strange isn't it how you chose to ignore the 300 miners killed in Turkey producing coal for their coal burning power plants or the many people killed and maimed in your own country mining and transporting coal. Apparently those are "safe".

I strongly advise you not to let rhetoric get in the way of or replace facts about nuclear power.


June, 06 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Correction Russia has 12 nuclear plants under construction.

June, 06 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Don, You need water and electricity to operate sanitation systems. India is short of both. Certainly India likely has lots of Sunshine for solar panels but (as far as I know) not at night time which seems a big problem to me. India's energy problems are not going to be solved by solar panels and I am fast coming around to your line of thinking that given current population growth rates there the problem cannot be solved....not even with nuclear power. One of your earlier posts calculated that even to provide basic energy requirements one would need to construct a 1000 MW plant every week (or was it every day) for 50 years. India cannot even manage to build even a few a year. Malcolm

November, 04 2015


I like the fact that there is discussion and interest around this article but i'm quite disappointed by the tone of some of the comments made by the some of you here. When i read the article, i was most pleased to see India's energy problem being high lighted and a view point put across. But the comments almost sound like bashing.

I think hte author is focussing on the potential India has thru the avaiable assets. what are you trying to achieve by quoting number of nuclear power plants that exist today or are being planned in the near future? Nobody's going to just jump to a green / non nuclear future state - there will be an incremental path.

It is in utter bad taste to bring up defecation when we are talking about renewables.

However big our defecation problems may be, we have to take steps in the right direction. There already are initiaves started to setup microgrids powered by local solar panels to power up hte small villages.

November, 04 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Commercial breeder reactors will be available and popular in a decade or so, and India will join the big parade. You can't have a country with as many talented engineers as India, and Believe that they will fall for crank ideas about wind and solar WITHOUT NUCLEAR.

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