India’s largest private sector entity is betting big on renewables. It promises a big boost to the country’s overall push towards solar, wind and hydrogen energy.
India’s biggest oil refiner--Reliance Industries Ltd, has embarked on its biggest transition till date as it seeks to become a net zero carbon company by 2035. To do that, the company that owns world’s biggest oil refinery in Jamnagar in Gujarat, is planning to invest Rs 75,000 crore over the next three years.
In his address to shareholders in the 44th Annual General Meeting, Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of RIL, said the company would set up a network of gigafactories-- a term popularised by Tesla promoter Elon Musk, to produce solar cells, electrolysers and fuel cells. The nerve centre of this new energy business for Reliance would also be Jamnagar. This would be quite a journey from crude oil to solar and hydrogen.
“The world is entering a new energy era, which is going to be highly disruptive. The age of fossil fuels, which powered economic growth globally for nearly three centuries, cannot continue much longer,” Ambani said at the AGM. “Our world has only one option: rapid transition to a new era of green, clean and renewable energy. The pandemic has further put the climate issue in the crisis bucket. Therefore, the global new energy agenda needs to move from dialogue to action, from commitment to urgent implementation on the ground. In reality, it is not enough to be carbon neutral; the world needs to achieve absolute reductions in emissions as soon as possible.”
In the background, the company has been working on its renewable strategy for some time. For hydrogen for example, it joined hands with Chart Industries--a NASDAQ listed global manufacturer of high-end engineering equipment, in April, to form the India H2 Alliance (IH2A) that work with the government and collaborate with other like-minded corporate houses to draw up a blueprint for commercialising hydrogen technologies.
Experts believe, this big bang entry into renewable could have the same impact as Jio’s entry in the domestic telecom space that accelerated adoption of 4G technology in India and brought down cost of data to the lowest in the world.
It is a similar template in renewables too. By 2030, the company is planning to establish a capacity of at least 100 gigawatt of solar energy by 2030. India’s overall renewable energy target itself, which includes solar as well as wind, by that timeline is 450 GW. To achieve that, the country needs to add 25 GW of renewable power capacity every year till then.
To put this further into context, world’s biggest solar energy producer today is Italy’s Enel whose current installed solar power capacity spread over 30 countries is 48.6 GW. China’s biggest solar producer--China Energy, is the second biggest in the world with a capacity of 36.7 GW. The biggest in India today is Tata Power with 12.8 GW capacity followed by Adani Green Energy at 4.9 GW.
Reliance’s 2030 ambition, dwarfs everybody else. Tata has plans to ramp up its own capacity to only 25 GW by the end of this decade. Adani has more aggressive plans and wants to add 5 GW of renewable capacity every year for the next decade to become India’s largest solar power company by 2025 and world’s largest renewable company by 2030. Before Ambani threw its hat in the ring, that may have been possible. But now it looks set to be upstaged.
“A significant part of this will come from rooftop solar and decentralised solar installations in villages. These will bring enormous benefits and prosperity to rural India,” Ambani said.
In hydrogen, Reliance is well ahead of the curve, at least in India. It plans to set up an electrolyser giga factory to manufacture modular electrolysers of highest efficiency and lowest capital cost as well as a fuel cell giga factory, which uses oxygen from the air and hydrogen to generate electricity.
This holds much potential. According to TERI, use of hydrogen in India can potentially increase by 5 times by 2050. Currently the demand for hydrogen is only around 6 million tonnes per annum in the country with most of the consumption coming from fertiliser plants and refineries. It can go up to 28 MT by 2050 and 40 MT by 2060 if net zero carbon target is to be achieved.