India’s efforts towards Global carbon neutrality
Opinion

India’s efforts towards Global carbon neutrality

India’s production of grey hydrogen amounts to 7 million tonnes per year.

  • By MP Sukumaran Nair , Director, Centre for Green Technology & Management | December 05, 2021

At the recently concluded COP 26 at Glasgow Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed to a 2070-time frame by which the country is slated to achieve the net zero emission target. Compared to the IPCC targeted year of 2050 for a net zero reduction of emissions which was accepted by many countries including the European Union, it is no complacency at all that a country of the magnitude, population and social fabric as India taking 20 years more.

He revealed that the country has advanced its commitments ahead of many nations in respect of definitive actions undertaken to mitigate the climate change havoc. The success achieved in creating over 100 GW of renewable energy capacity, especially solar and the successful culmination of the effort towards vaccinating one billion people against Covid 19 by October last, has been demonstrative of the of the capability of India and its strategy and action plan for the implementation of the much difficult targets as proposed by the IPCC leading to the sustainable development of the future world.

Green growth

The intent and commitment was so well expressed and appreciated among many world leaders. The Indian predicament may be viewed in the context of its national economic development goals. The country with its 1.35 billion population of which near to 65% is in the working age group of 14-65, is aspiring to become a 5 trillion USD economy in another four to five years and the government is particular to see the above growth do not contribute to a further increase in existing inequality if not blunt the same. Therefore, the agenda of a time bound reduction in emission shall also take into consideration the growth perspective of populous countries like India and China which will inevitably contribute to increased emissions.

Programs underway in India like electricity for all and gas for every household for cooking, if scaled up in proportion to its population, add on to more CO2 emissions which becomes inevitable and difficult for any national government with the agenda of uplifting the lower strata of the society whose aspirations for growth and development are indeed ambitious. Apart from this the investments in carbon intensive projects that are already made and likely to become productive soon have also to be accommodated.

A balance will have to be struck by decarbonizing future growth programs through adoption of green technologies and transforming existing operations towards a carbon reduction program. How far we will be able to acquire or develop technologies and organize the investment for the above cause is likely to determine the time frame and growth trajectory towards decarbonization. Sectors with high carbon and energy intensity needing priority attention in this respect include cement, iron and steel, aluminium, fertilisers, oil and gas and power generation.

Renewable power development stands first. Because it is this power that will go into the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen and ammonia, for traction in transport and for heating and cooling purposes. Self-sufficiency in green power generation is attributed to massive technological innovation in batteries for a higher KVA per kilogram, solar panels for higher photovoltaic conversion efficiency, new generation electrolysers for hydrogen production, higher motor efficiency and reduced transmission energy loss. This will require extra capital spending for which the private and cooperative sectors may need encouragement. Of course, digitization, IoT, ITeS, AR and AI potential may come handy in promoting the above innovation.

Perspective plan

All 27 EU Member States committed to turning the EU into the first climate neutral continent by 2050. To get there, they pledged to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. With fossil-energy getting replaced with renewables due to increasing costs it is only natural that many jobs across sectors will disappear and therefore, government intervention will be required to retrain workers. India has drawn up a roadmap for a complete energy dependence by 2047 with the interim targets of 175 GW renewable energy generation by 2022; 450 GW by 2030. Right now since October 2021, India’s installed renewable energy capacity is over 100 GW of which 50 GW is solar.

According to the recent Global Hydrogen Review 2021 of the International Energy Agency (IEA), India’s production of grey hydrogen amounts to 7 million tonnes per year, made out of natural gas, refinery off gas and coal as feedstock for use in its refineries (45%), ammonia, methanol and other chemicals (35%) and steel making through the DRI route (20%). This is also supplemented by an additional 996.7 million cubic metres (0.082 million tonnes) of hydrogen produced (2021) from chlor alkali plants which is also used for chemical synthesis and as fuel. The demand is expected to grow to 11 million tonnes by 2030. Major industry operators Adani, Arcelor Mittal, the Indian Oil Corporation, NTPC, Reliance Industries and the Solar Energy Corporation of India announced big ticket plans to develop low-carbon hydrogen production.

India launched its National Hydrogen Mission (NHM) in 2021 with the intent and direction and also explore policy action to support the use of hydrogen as an energy vector and develop a global manufacturing hub for hydrogen and fuel cell related technology hardware. The government has already mandated quotas for using renewable hydrogen in refining and ammonia production. According to the proposal, starting in 2023 refineries will have to meet 10% of their hydrogen demand with renewable hydrogen, increasing to 25% in the following five years. Fertiliser producers will need to meet 5% of demand with renewable hydrogen in 2023, increasing to 20%. Shortly, this proposal is expected to be extended to the steel industry also.

In the Indian situation, the deployment of hydrogen in different sectors will occur on different timeframes and for different reasons. Industry will take the lead with steel, ammonia, refining, methanol followed by battery operated electrical vehicles. In power, hydrogen could be a cost-effective way of providing interseasonal storage in a high variable renewable electricity system from 2040.

Wherever possible direct use of renewable power should be preferred. Hydrogen and its conversion ammonia shall be a second option for energy storage preferably for long distance hauling, aircrafts and ships. Development of industrial conglomerates would attract technical and commercial viability of hydrogen use for manufacturing applications.

Renewed thrust

Unlike in the past, with regard to technological advances in several sectors, the approach taken by the Govt of India towards fostering a hydrogen economy for the country was quick and timely. The Prime Minister himself exhorted the importance to align with the ongoing technology developments in hydrogen sector as a sustainable alternative to fossil energy and the need to build in-house expertise through active participation in research and innovation in this area. It is also recognized that Govt support by way of viability gap funding etc if needed for projects will come through. The government shall set targets for electrolyser deployment by 2030 and incentivize domestic manufacturing of electrolysers, under the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ programme, it would throw up substantial business opportunities for future years.

How fast global carbon neutrality will be attained beyond 2050 will depend on the commitments of major emitters China, US and India. The earlier these countries succeed in decarbonizing their activities, the faster will be the attainment of global carbon neutrality. In the interim, we expect substantial progress among the developed countries towards this goal by 2050 along with the above three countries will also be advancing their efforts stage by stage.

After 2050 these three countries will accelerate the progress towards decarbonization, and the attainment of global neutrality will be hastened. As things stand today one would expect this to happen during the decade 2060-’70.

(MP Sukumaran Nair, Director, Centre for Green Technology & Management and formerly Secretary to Chief Minister, Govt of Kerala.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of ICN and ICN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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