India is the world’s third largest energy consumer, and its energy demand will quadruple in the coming decades. Currently, the country imports 90 percent of its oil and 80 percent of its industrial coal. However, according to a new study by the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, India can become energy independent by 2047. The study titled Pathways to Atmanirbhar Bharat (which translates to “self-reliant India”), examines India’s three most energy intensive sectors– power, transport, and industry and it determined that achieving energy independence will generate significant economic, environmental, and energy benefits.
The study finds that India has a unique advantage to leapfrog to a clean energy future since the bulk of its energy infrastructure has yet to be built. India’s growing energy demand offers a significant runway of 15 years for the existing fossil energy assets to transition to clean energy. This includes $2.5 trillion in consumer savings through 2047, reducing fossil fuel import expenditure by 90 percent or $240 billion per year by 2047, enhancing India’s industrial competitiveness globally, and enabling India’s net-zero commitment ahead of schedule.
“The case for clean energy has never been stronger. India has achieved the world’s lowest renewable energy prices and has found some of the world’s largest lithium reserves,” said Nikit Abhyankar, Berkeley Lab scientist and the lead author of the study. “This can propel India towards cost-effective energy independence in a way that is economically and environmentally advantageous.”
The study shows that India’s energy independence pathway would involve the power sector installing more than 500 GW of non-fossil electricity generation capacity by 2030, followed by an 80 percent clean grid by 2040 and 90 percent by 2047. The study has predicted that nearly 100 percent of new vehicle sales could be electric by 2035 and the savings of $2.3 trillion will further aid the economy.
Heavy industrial production could shift primarily to green hydrogen and electrification. According to the study, most of the lithium needed (estimated 2 million tons by 2040) for manufacturing new EVs and grid-scale battery storage systems could be produced domestically using newly discovered reserves. In addition, the Indian industry must transition to clean technologies such as EV and green steel manufacturing. India is one of the world’s largest auto and steel exporters, with their largest markets in EU countries committed to carbon neutrality and a potential carbon border adjustment tariff.
Commenting on a question on India’s steps towards green steel, Dr Abhyankar, said, “There’s still not a big moment of green steel in India. But India will develop it and the National Green Hydrogen Mission is a step in the same direction. In the coming years, new steel plants should be using green steel as EU countries where India exports have carbon neutrality. Also India has the unique advantage of year-round solar resource so there is no need for cross-seasonal storage of hydrogen for green steel. So, the cost of green steel using solar-based hydrogen will be much lower as compared to the EU or US.”
India’s energy infrastructure requires a $3 trillion investment in the coming decades. The successful energy transition would also require significant policy support, including deployment mandates for clean technologies, financial and policy support for emerging technologies such as green hydrogen, and investment in domestic manufacturing capacity.
“We find that India will embark on an ambitious energy transition in the coming decades,” said Priyanka Mohanty, a co-author and researcher at Berkeley Lab. “However, the transition runway provides time to strategically deploy clean technologies at scale and plan for a just transition.”