Time to open up coal sector long gone – Opinion

Years ago, there used to be two arguments weighing against the use of renewable power. One, it was expensive. The lowest offer in the country’s first solar auctions, in 2011, was ₹7.95 — described then as a “sub-8 surprise”. The story since then is too well known to merit recounting here. Suffice to say, that wind and solar power have stabilised between ₹2.50-2.90.

The second point against the renewables was the ‘intermittency factor’. Wind blows, power surges through wires, wind slows, power slows. Likewise, in solar, if a cloud passes under the sun, the panels sit down to rest. This wasn’t a big problem when renewable power wasn’t big and could be absorbed in a sea of even and steady conventional power, but when wind and solar became big (now, 37 GW and 35 GW, respectively), the fickle flows became a headache for the grid managers.

But with developments such as improvements in forecasting and (consequently) scheduling, the opening of 11 ‘renewable energy management centres’ in the country with software to balance demand against zig-zag supply, the falling cost of storage batteries, and the advent of ‘flexible coal’— a new techniques that makes it possible to quickly ramp up and bring down generation, which was not possible earlier — the issue of intermittency is going away. This is reflected in offers of very low tariffs for steady power by renewable energy developers.

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