Renewable energy

Cheaper renewable energy soars past nuclear power in India

The cost of renewable energy is now lower than the cost of nuclear power.

Renewable energy in India has overtaken nuclear power as the country seeks carbon-free sources of energy to balance its reliance on coal.

Renewable energy generation in India is higher than its nuclear power generation and is growing at a much faster pace because it is cheaper and quicker to install. The cost of renewable energy is now lower than the cost of nuclear power and does not come with attendant risks, such as last week’s radioactive fuel leak in Gujarat.

Renewable energy generation in India was 61.8 billion units, versus 36.1 billion units of nuclear power generation during the financial year 2014-'15. Renewable energy accounted for 5.6% of electricity generated in India, against 3.2% for nuclear power.

Renewable energy has been growing at a faster pace than nuclear power over two years. During 2013-'14 and 2014-'15, renewable energy grew at 11.7% and 16.2%, respectively, while nuclear power growth has been almost flat over the same period.

Source: Central Electricity Authority
Source: Central Electricity Authority

Meeting targets

The bulk of India’s renewable energy comes from wind, but solar energy is growing faster, with installed capacity reaching 5,775 megawatts in February 2016. The national solar mission has set a target of 100,000 MW of solar power by 2022. If this target is met, renewable energy will become the second-largest source of power for India, after coal, and ahead of hydropower, natural gas and nuclear energy.

Nuclear power capacity in India is 5,780 MW; another 1,500 MW is under construction and another 3,400 MW has been cleared – a total of 10,680 MW by the end of the decade.

Renewable energy’s growth is propelled by the falling costs of solar and wind energy, as reported earlier.

In November 2015, US-based SunEdison offered solar electricity in India at Rs 4.63/unit. In January this year, this was followed by a Finnish company, Fortum Finnsurya, offering solar power to the National Thermal Power Corporation for Rs 4.34/unit.

At these prices, solar electricity is already cheaper than electricity coming from newly built hydro and nuclear power plants. For instance, India is now starting work on a Rs 39,849-crore expansion (2 units of 1,000 MW each) of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Tamil Nadu, due to be completed by 2020-21. Electricity from these reactors – if they are completed on time – will cost Rs 6.3/unit.

Past experience in India and elsewhere suggests this is unlikely.

Slow progress

Work on Units 1 and 2 of the Kudankulam Power Plant began in 2001 and was supposed to be completed by 2007 and 2008. Unit 1 began commercial operations in December 2014 while Unit 2 is yet to be commissioned.

This experience is mirrored in other countries: a power plant being built by the US firm Westinghouse is more than three years behind schedule; a French company, Areva, is building a reactor in Finland, about nine years behind schedule. Both, Areva and Westinghouse, are among four foreign companies that want to build reactors for the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.

While nuclear power plants typically take more than a decade to build, solar farms and wind-mills can be erected in a few weeks to a few months, with capacities that range from 0.1 MW to 1,000 MW.

Also, nuclear power plants are owned and operated in India by one company, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India. Solar and wind-energy installation have been set up by private individuals, airports, banks, oil companies and educational institutions.

Apart from shutdowns – such as this and this in Kudankulam, and the one we referred to in Gujarat – making nuclear power more expensive, there is also the issue of nuclear liability: Who pays in case something goes wrong? Foreign companies want to build reactors in India, but don’t want to face resultant liabilities.

The drawbacks

The single biggest problem of renewable power is its intermittent nature. The sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow.

So, 1 MW of renewable energy generated 1.43 million units of electricity from April 2015 to January 2016. Over the same period, 1 MW of nuclear power generated 5.85 million units of electricity. A nuclear power plant can operate round the clock and can supply electricity at night.

There is currently no cost-effective answer for supplying renewable energy round the clock.

An interim solution can be to use renewable energy when it's available, and turn to natural gas, a fuel much cleaner than coal, at other times. India has more than 24,000 MW of natural gas-fired power plants – enough to supply almost 10% of current electricity demand – mostly idle due to lack of cheap fuel. The drop in international gas prices offers an opportunity to fire them up again, as IndiaSpend has reported.

Solar power also needs a lot of land. Putting up 1 MW of solar power requires two hectares of land. This means large-scale solar power plants should only be put up on land that has no value for agriculture or wildlife. This restricts large-scale solar power to the arid areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Small-scale rooftop solar plants can, however, be installed in cities.

This article was first published on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public interest journalism non-profit.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.