Climate change could impact India’s renewable energy potential over the next 50 years

A destructed belt of mangrove plants in the erosion prone coast of Pentha in the Kendrapara district of Odisha. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay

A destructed belt of mangrove plants in the erosion prone coast of Pentha in the Kendrapara district of Odisha. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay

  • A recent study by scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune projects that climate change is likely to impact the potential of solar and wind energy in India in the next 50 years, in a business as usual scenario.
  • The modeling study said the solar radiance in most of India is likely to see a dip. The wind speed shows a decreasing trend in north India but an increasing trend in south India.
  • Experts claim that time is ripe for development of efficient technologies to combat the negative effects of climate change on the renewable energy sector.

The expanse and success of wind energy in India is concentrated in a few states because of the commercial viability and favourable wind and climate conditions they offer. About 95 percent of the installed wind energy in the country is in eight states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana and Tamil Nadu – according to government data. Solar energy projects, meanwhile, are mushrooming across the country.

Renewable energy production, however, is expected to be impacted by climate change, finds a recent study, by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune. The researchers claim that over most of India’s landmass, solar potential would decrease in the near future. Wind potential, on the other hand, shows an increasing trend on the onshore regions in India but the potential in the offshore areas shows a decreasing trend for non-monsoon months.

The study used climate models such as Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX), Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) and CMIP6 to understand climate projections for various parts of the country over five decades. The information provided by these models helps analyse the availability of renewable energy sources in the future.

The researchers looked at the historical simulation data from the last 55 years and projected how renewable energy sources would fare in the next 55 years. “The findings could be used by policy makers to take preventive measures to mitigate the actions which are leading to global warming and climate change. It could also help the energy sector in working towards more research and development in boosting the technical capabilities of solar and wind energy,” study co-author Parthasarathi Mukhopadhyay told Mongabay-India.

The study said that the southern coast of Odisha and southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu show promise for wind potential. This is in contrast to the present situation where wind energy is yet to take shape in Odisha. Meanwhile in Jammu and Kashmir, the study predicted an increase in the frequency of lower wind velocities while higher velocities could see a dip in future.

An assessment report by the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE), Chennai for wind power potential at a height of 120 meters, put Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir and some others as medium potential areas for wind energy and where the industry is still not developed. The IITM study, however, has different predictions, possibly because it used climate model data through CORDEX and CIMP, while the NIWE assessment is based on advanced wind flow model with corroboration from the actual 406 measurement sites in India.

A woman walks across a mini-solar grid plant in Gumla district. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay
A woman walks across a mini-solar grid plant in Gumla district. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

The seasonal analysis of the climate models done by the IITM scientists also shows that the southern and the northwest regions of India could see a higher wind speed during winter and monsoon months when the wind potential is usually the maximum. The study also notes that solar radiance is likely to decrease during all seasons over most of the solar farming regions of India and hence, from an investment point of view, central and south central India must be considered during the pre-monsoon months as the potential loss is likely to be minimal in these regions.

The IITM study also hinted towards prominent changes of annual solar radiance in the foothills of Himalayas and central India whereas the solar radiation is likely to be the lowest in the future decades and would improve along the central and south central India between 2040-2070.

The study concluded that the annual and seasonal wind speeds are likely to decrease over north India and increase over south India. The study batted for more intensive investment on the research and development of technologies used for solar and wind energy. “With the estimated decrease in future wind and solar potential, an expanded and more efficient network of wind and solar farms is needed to increase renewable energy production,” the report said.

IITM’s Mukhopadhyay also said that there is also a need to maintain real time data on changing climate situations and its impact on energy systems to analyse the trend and act accordingly.

The study assumes significance as this could be used by solar and wind energy developers and investors, which are primarily private players. The research also comes at a time when the Indian government has globally committed to increase its share of renewable energy and achieve net zero target by 2070 through the latest updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which the Indian government is set to submit to the United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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Climate change and clean energy

Experts working in the energy sector claim that climate conditions often play a key role in the success of the sensitive solar and wind energy sectors.

Deepak Krishnan, Associate Director (Energy Programme) at the World Resources Institute (WRI), India also explained that most of the wind farms in India are situated close to favourable geographical locations, the economics behind this decision and what pre-requisites the wind energy developers or investors see before venturing into it. Krishnan said that the maximum concentration of wind energy is in the Palghat pass area of Kerala and Kanyakumari region in Tamil Nadu, followed by Gujarat.

“The interest of wind energy developers/investors is mainly dictated by the potential speed of wind that exists in that area. Post the potential assessment, developers will also look at friendliness of policy, competitiveness of the tariff offered and presence of industry which can help them enter third party contracts. Yes, geography and climate play a key role in determining the best wind sites. The more you move away from them, your tariffs increase as wind speeds reduce,” Krishnan told Mongabay-India.

Saptak Ghosh, Senior Policy Specialist (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) at Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), told Mongabay-India, that climate change impacts could lead to more drastic monsoons, summers and winters affecting the overall production from solar and wind farms.

“Climate change leads to more drastic monsoons, summers and winters. This means that in some parts of the year solar radiation will be higher than the average trend of the recent past and vice versa. The same goes for wind. So unless renewable (RE) generation projections and prediction models do not account for this variability, the operation of the grid will become more complex in terms of scheduling, balancing and dispatching. Various research organisations are conducting extensive research programs in this field worldwide. The outputs and recommendations of these studies will determine if the negative impact of climate change on RE-based generation can be mitigated or not,” Ghosh said.

A 2018 paper on the Indian Ocean showed that warming of the Indian Ocean during the studied period (1980 to 2016) led to weakening of monsoonal circulation and wind speeds in India.

A chicken farm destroyed by cyclone Fani in Puri district of Odisha. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay
A chicken farm destroyed by cyclone Fani in Puri district of Odisha. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay

The latest available assessment report 6 (AR6) of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), earlier this year, noted that due to the impact of climate change, rising temperatures could increase the threat of heat waves across Asia and drought in South Asia and other parts of the continent, besides melting of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region while transboundary river basins of Ganges and others could face severe water scarcity.


Banner image: Mangroves destroyed in the erosion-prone coast of Pentha in the Kendrapara district of Odisha. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

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