Coal no longer accounts for majority of India’s energy capacity in major landmark for renewables

The share of coal in India’s power sector dropped to less than half for the first time in decades, indicating a major milestone in the South Asian country’s shift towards renewables.

In the first quarter of 2024, India added a record-breaking 13,669MW of power generation capacity, with renewable energy accounting for a substantial 71.5 per cent share.

This marks a pivotal moment as coal’s share of the total power capacity dropped below 50 per cent for the first time since the 1960s.

The figures, published in a quarterly report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) on Wednesday, showed that India is on path to reach its target of 50 per cent cumulative power generation capacity from non-fossil fuel-based sources by 2030 way ahead of its time.

Even though the country continued to generate more electricity from coal, the additional renewable capacity point to a more sustainable future for India’s electricity sector, the report said.

This comes amidst a global trend where coal demand in G7 countries has plummeted to record lows, with a recent meeting resulting in a collective commitment to phase out unabated coal power generation by 2035.

Experts said this spike in more renewable projects comes as the world recovers from recent pandemic and war related shocks, and India is paving its way ahead as a renewable powerhouse.

“After a slump from 2019 to 2022 due to supply-chain issues and global price spikes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the market has rebounded and gone from strength to strength,” said the report’s contributing author, Vibhuti Garg.

“There is strong investor interest in the Indian utility-scale renewable energy market,” he added. “The primary reasons are the large-scale potential for market growth, central government support in terms of targets and regulatory frameworks, and higher operating margins.”

India issued a record-breaking 69GW in utility-scale renewable energy projects, according to the report released by IEEFA and JMK Research.

India has also rocketed to third in the world’s solar power generation rankings, behind only China and the US, according to Ember’s fifth annual Global Electricity Review of 80 countries, released last week.

Ranked ninth in 2015, India has now surpassed Japan, which, along with fellow G7 member Germany, has a stubbornly high demand for coal.

“A renewables-powered future is now becoming a reality,” said Aditya Lolla, Ember’s Asia programme director. “Solar power, in particular, is growing at an unprecedented pace.

“Our report concludes that the rapid growth in solar and wind has brought the world to a crucial turning point – likely this year – where fossil generation starts to decline at a global level.”

However, India continues to grapple with coal dependence, especially during adverse weather conditions and surges in power demand.

While the report says this dependence isn’t likely to end this year, the record growth in renewable capacity shows that despite this challenge, India’s renewable energy sector shows no signs of slowing down.

This article was amended on 16 May 2024. It originally stated that coal no longer accounts for the majority of India’s power supply, but that was incorrect. Coal no longer accounts for the majority of the capacity of India’s power stations.