Renewable Energy in the North East
Forty per cent of all untapped hydroelectricity in India courses through the perennial tributaries and rocky topography of the eight North Eastern states, namely - Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura1. The region is blessed with an unrealized potential of 62,000 MW in solar energy and 56,480 MW in hydroelectricity2.
The North-East sports a 2.6 lakh square kilometre area, 7.9 per cent of India’s expanse, while comprising of 45 million people, a meagre 3.76 per cent of the nation’s people. Of their total geographical area, the North East states have a total forest cover of about 64 per cent3. Looking at the national average of 21 per cent4 and the world average of 31 per cent5 one can observe the crucial role of the North East in achieving our nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The Indian Government has had the North-East in its visions for green energy future since the 1990s. However, the progress was relatively slow until 2019. In March 2019, the Government announced large hydro-power plants to capitalize on the hitherto untapped regions of the North East to explore the full extent of this green energy. The Government of India has now found rejuvenated strength and perception in the North East Renewable Energy efforts. To ensure effective regulatory environments and private sector participation, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh instituted the Small Hydropower Policy to promote private participation in development of small hydro projects. Similarly, the Government of Sikkim created power policies to facilitate capital investments. The Central Government also supported renewable power generation through special incentives for the North East Region and Sikkim, where a capital grant of INR 22.5 million per MW is available for small hydro projects.6 There are already investments of £980 million being earmarked for upgrading power systems in eight North Eastern States – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.7
North-East is also simultaneously tapping into solar power to become India’s leader in solar energy production using innovative methods, as reported by Indian Express from a state-wide analysis by Swaniti Initiative8. Solar rooftops have become one such brilliant solution, lighting the way for a self-sustainable green future for the region. The Ministry of New Renewable Energy has brought out a scheme under the Viability Gap Funding9 which holds a highly ambitious plan to increase solar rooftop capacities by 2700 MW. According to a forecast by McKinsey, energy storage will be cheaper by 50 to 70% by the year 2026 due to increasing efficiency and advancement in battery technology which would solve a major part of the storage problems common with solar mentioned previously10. As on 31st March 2019, the Ministry of New Renewable Energy has already sanctioned or approved projects with capacities upwards of 55MWp in various North Eastern states11. Solar street lights are another front on which North East states have furthered solar energy use, with reportedly more than 1 million of them being functional in the states12.
With the grid-connected solar rooftops scheme in Assam, solar energy companies are also provided with 70 per cent subsidy by the Ministry of New Renewable Energy13. These panels ideally do not require significant amounts of storages and are directly interactive with the power grid. The grid-connected solar rooftops solved nearly all of the problems that the people were facing when using the service. The subsidy gave solar power a competitive pricing near its energy equivalents. This year, Northeast India's biggest solar power project, with a generation capacity of 70 MW, was also inaugurated by the Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma at Amguri in Sivasagar district.14
Though solar and hydropower are doing leaps and bounds in the eight states, there is also an effort to harness wind energy. According to the Weibull analysis data, Gangtok, Tarey Bhir, Bomdila, and Dibrugarh can be utilised to generate considerable amounts of power at a height of 10 metres, whilst other locations can be used to harvest wind energy at a height greater than 10 metres15.
The Government of India has taken significant strides in sustainably harnessing the massive reservoir of energy that resides in the North East region. Many hurdles have been crossed along the way and there has been steady progress. Northeast is all set to become India’s first victory in the zero emissions by 2070 goal.
This has been authored by Geetima Krishna.