Kerala's action plan to combat climate change

Kerala faced the wrath of natural disasters like cyclone Ockhi in 2017, floods in 2018 and 2019, the Nipah virus in 2021 and so on. The state has started experiencing temperature rise, irregular monsoon and water scarcity for the past few years. This prompted the state government to revise its action plan on climate change. Just like other parts of the globe, climate change and its effects are visible in the southern state of Kerala. The vulnerability has been exposed in recent times and the state government is having a tough time containing the damage. A drain on the ex-chequer and rehabilitation has also hastened government intervention on the issue. The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) issued a common framework for revision of the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) in 2019, outlining the broad principles of revising the SAPCC. During the first week of December 2022, in line with this guideline, the state of Kerala published SAPCC 2.0, the original version of which was approved in 2014. Various sectors are adequately addressed in the SAPCC 2.0.

In the same period, (December 2022), a performance-based loan for 100 Million Euro was signed by the Kerala government and AFD (a French Development Agency). It aims to increase the state’s resilience against the effects of climate change. The agreement was signed by Rebuild Kerala Initiative (RKI) on behalf of the Kerala government.

The government of Kerala has also announced its plan to ensure that the state reaches its goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2040 and becoming net carbon neutral state by 2050. This article examines initiatives in the electricity sector and outlines the state’s energy transition from 2023-2030.

Western Ghats and Electricity Generation: The Western Ghats ecology expert panel headed by Prof Madhav Gadgil, recommended establishing sustainable development in a democratic way.  It was in 2011 that the Madhav Gadgil Committee report was published with strong recommendations on implementation of energy projects in the Western Ghats—an area that runs through 11 out of the 14 districts of Kerala. Prof Gadgil suggested constructing hydroelectric projects from run-of-the-river projects. He recommended mandatory Distributed Energy Resources (DER) through solar plants.

The Athirappilly hydroelectric project feasibility was also reviewed by the Prof Gadgil committee and subsequently, the government was advised to roll back the proposal. Further, the committee suggested that local governing bodies (LGB) should take a final decision on its recommendations. Additionally, the committee identified 4 climate change hotspots of Kerala, located in the Western Ghats. The importance of a resilient power system is particularly important in the context of climate change.

Climate observations of SAPCC: Historically, a moderate warming trend is recorded during summer and winter in the state along with a decreasing trend in the annual average rainfall. It is projected that the region’s temperature may increase between 10C and 20C in the near term. District wise rainfall is projected to increase during the pre-monsoon, monsoon and winter seasons. The studies were done in two Representative Concentration Pathway (RCPs) - RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5. The very heavy rainfall events are projected to increase in all districts and the report notes that the direction of changes in temperature, rainfall and extreme events (such as heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones) are largely in agreement with the literature at global, south-Asia and national levels.

Mitigation Strategy in Electricity Sector: Emissions from energy sectors — power generation, transport, industries, agriculture (energy use), and buildings, which account for 80% of the emissions from the state, have grown significantly over the last two decades. The actual electricity generation and consumption in the state were 7,638 GWh and 25,146 GWh respectively (Central Electricity Authority, 2021). During 2016-17, 80% of the electrical energy demand of the state was met from thermal plants located outside the state. The Kerala government also launched a programme in 2017 called ‘Urja Kerala Mission’, aimed at the integrated development of the electricity sector. The three major activities undertaken in Kerala to decarbonize the power sector are---increasing RE based electricity generation, reducing T&D losses and improving energy efficiency. The 14th five-year plan (2022-2027) envisages enhanced power generation from non-fossil-based sources.

Kerala’s Power Policy 2019: The peculiar electricity consumption pattern within the state poses challenges in determining the optimum power generation portfolio for the state. Industrial electricity consumption in Kerala is only around 21% of the total consumption. Agricultural consumption is also minimal at 2%. The major consumption is from domestic and commercial consumers and comes to 70%. Key contributors to the demand are lighting loads----this load pattern puts certain limitations on the options in sourcing power in the most optimal manner.

In the backdrop of various challenges faced by the state in securing its energy security, the State Power Policy was evolved in 2019. Accordingly, the policy embarks on the global trend of power generation/sourcing from renewables. It prioritises grid level energy storage systems to enhance the capability of power system so that it absorbs more green energy in the portfolio.

Way forward/Rooftop Solar: Kerala has installed 100 MW of domestic roof top under its flagship program “Soura”. It has another 100 MW under implementation of the same program. As part of the programme under Solar City, ANERT is also implementing a targeted 100 MW on within Thiruvananthapuram city. When completed, it would enable the city to become Net Zero.

Kerala Panchayat Building Rules, 2019, requires rooftop solar energy installations in the new buildings with a total built-up area exceeding 500 square meters so as to generate minimum 5% of the connected load. Further, in all new buildings with total built-up area exceeding 500 square metres, there shall be a solar hot water system. Kerala State Energy Conservation Building Code (KSECBC) standards with respect to energy conservation are also to be followed while designing the building’s energy requirements.

Low Carbon Governance: In its efforts to decarbonize the sector, the state has introduced policies and programmes to promote RE-based electricity generation. Premier organs under the Ministry of Power---ANERT and Kerala State Electricity Board Limited---have been entrusted with the responsibility of aggregating the demand of such electricity requirement from various departments coming under the public building category.  The data collected by the State Nodal Agency for renewables, Agency for Non-conventional Energy and Rural Technology (ANERT), had identified about 30 MW potential on the rooftops of government buildings.

HPO benefits: In Kerala, the current level of RPO for 2021-22 is 6.75% and 10.25% from solar and non-solar (total 17%) energy sources. The state is yet to issue regulation on the modified obligations for a trajectory up to 2030.  Once implemented the Kerala distribution company (Discom) can comfortably achieve MNRE’s fresh requirements to be met through HPO, Wind RPO, Energy Storage obligation and others. However, while rejecting a petition on modifying the current Net Metering Regulation in August 2022, the regulator has put a poser on the utility to meet the backlog RPO first and then ask for fresh revisions.

Floating Solar Power Plants: Installing medium size (100MW to 300MW) grid storage-based solar floating power plants in dam reservoirs and lakes in Kerala totalling to a capacity of 500MW. Li-ion based Grid Storage systems are now very popular worldwide as storage solutions along with solar PV generation for pumping the power back to the grid whenever demand comes. In the case of Kerala, Grid Storage solutions along with Floating Solar helps to reserve water in the hydroelectric dam reservoirs for meeting the peak load in the evening. The modularity of Hydro Electric Generation in the State with several different sized turbines allows us to manage the Grid effectively in this situation.

Innovating away from the ground mounted solar PV, KSEBL has decided to focus more on floating solar power plants by releasing tenders for large floating plants on three of its reservoirs. Overall, Kerala has 250 MW of floating solar in the pipeline, with hygroscopic surveys underway already. Earlier this summer, NTPC commissioned a 92 MW floating solar at Kayamkulam in the state.

Wind Energy: The National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE) has predicted a total of 1,700MW wind energy potential in the state based on Miso-Micro scale mapping and based on the available ground based data. Around 200MW can be generated from wind energy as a first phase, especially from the potential areas in Palakkad and Idukki districts. The wind farm potential at Chengotta in Kollam and Ponmudi in Thiruvananthapuram District are also to be explored.

As part of MNRE’s effort to speed up installation of wind power projects, the scheme for “Development of Wind Parks/ Wind-Solar Hybrid Park” has been proposed. Suitable sites for Wind Park/ Wind-Solar Hybrid Park development have also been identified by the NIWE in a few parts of Kerala, bordering Tamil Nadu.

Green Energy Open Access: Ministry of Power, GoI, has issued Draft Electricity (Promoting RE through Green Energy Open Access) Rules 2021 in August 2021. This rule shall be applicable for purchase and consumption of green energy. Consumers who have contracted demand / sanctioned load of 100 kW and above shall be eligible to take power through green energy open access. Consumers can request their DISCOM itself to supply Green Power. However, it must be noted that utility major KSEBL has not filed a petition with the state regulator for tariff discovery on Green Energy.

EV Charging Stations through solar: One of the drivers of the Open Access rules is Kerala’s target of 100,000 EVs by 2025, allowing EVs to be charged by green energy. The state has already made progress by setting up some RE powered EV charging infrastructure.

Energy Storage Systems: The electricity storage via pumped hydro storage and batteries needs a detailed assessment of electricity demand and supply till 2030.  Therefore, these types of analysis and power sector planning are not considered in the current Action Plan preparation.

Currently Kerala has no ESS in its portfolio. However, as per Central Electricity Authority (CEA), pumped-hydro storage potential for the state is 4400 MW. Since, Kerala has predominantly hydro-based generation; it is feasible to associate some of the existing plants with pumped-hydro. The state has identified three such schemes as Sholayar-I (810 MW), Sholayar-II (390MW) and Poringalkuthu  (80MW).

NITI Aayog has launched the State Energy & Climate Index (SECI). The State Energy & Climate Index (SECI) of Niti Aayog ranks the states’ performance on 6 parameters, namely, (1) DISCOM’s Performance (2) Access, Affordability and Reliability of Energy (3) Clean Energy Initiatives (4) Energy Efficiency (5) Environmental Sustainability; and (6) New Initiatives. Kerala ranks no.2 among the larger states category in 2022. The state now aspires to reach the top slot.

About the author: G. Sivaramakrishnan is a clean energy consultant based in Kochi, Kerala. He is a resource person of ANERT, the nodal agency of MNRE in Kerala. A chartered engineer with professional experience of over 30 years in the RE industry, his career stints include Technical Consultant to ANERT and member of the Energy Working Group in the Kerala State Planning Board for plan period 2022-27 etc. An accredited trainer for RE in Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, he is associated with NISE, NIWE, NPC and many other institutions across the country. Currently, he is a member of the Governing Council of Solar Energy Society of India.