(Photo: ReNew Energy)
ReNew is playing a critical role in India’s energy transition by scaling up the nation’s renewable energy capacity, building energy storage infrastructure, and—it hopes—eventually producing green hydrogen.
ReNew built its first project in 2012, developing a small wind farm in the Indian state of Gujarat. But in just a little more than a decade, the company has become one of India’s largest renewables companies, operating more than 120 wind and solar projects across the nation that collectively are capable of powering approximately 14 million homes.
The company is now pushing into other areas as well, with plans to develop battery storage plants to help manage fluctuating renewables sources on the grid and to produce a clean form of hydrogen that could enable India to begin to clean up its heavy industry.
- Industry: Renewable energy
- Founded: 2011
- Headquarters: Gurugram, India
- Notable fact: ReNew is training women who currently work long hours on vast salt marshes in Gujarat to become solar panel and pump technicians. The program launched with 60 women in mid-2022 and will scale up to eventually enroll 1,000 women.
Potential for impact
ReNew’s wind and solar projects are helping India get closer to its decarbonization targets. ReNew accounts for about 5% of the country’s installed capacity of renewables, which stood at 172 gigawatts as of August 2023.
But the nation is still lagging far behind in developing energy storage systems. Without storage, the variability of wind and solar energy make it harder to integrate these clean power sources into the grid.
With only 37 megawatt-hours of installed battery storage capacity, India will require at least 236 gigawatt-hours of additional energy storage by 2032 to meet its targets. To address this, ReNew is setting up one of the country’s largest utility-scale lithium-ion battery systems across two states. It’s due to be online by late 2023.
Although ReNew has grown rapidly since 2011, it might not be able to expand at similar rates in the future. While India’s government is pushing for more renewable power, many states are grappling with severely underutilized coal mines operating at only 1% of available capacity. State leaders face political pressure to make more use of these mines, which may complicate ReNew’s expansion plans.
In 2021, ReNew got 80% of its income from power purchase agreements with central and state government utility companies. Those utilities control how electricity is distributed within India, which limits the company’s pool of potential customers. And because state governments prefer using their existing sources of coal, there are a limited number of purchasers for large volumes of renewable energy. That lack of demand could threaten ReNew’s solar and wind projects.
Right now, there’s also still very little demand for energy storage and green hydrogen because these technologies are expensive. For ReNew’s ambitious projects in these areas to survive, the Indian government would likely need to introduce renewable purchase obligations and green hydrogen mandates for manufacturing ammonia and fertilizers.
To date, ReNew has a total commissioned capacity of 8.4 GW of wind and solar energy assets in its portfolio across nine states with plans to install new wind and solar projects with a combined capacity of 5 GW over the next two years.
But the company doesn’t yet know when or where it could set up a green hydrogen power plant in India. Its lithium-ion battery storage projects will begin storing renewable power by the end of this year. ReNew also entered into a joint venture with Fluence, a US-based energy storage company, in early 2022, to install energy storage systems at ReNew’s wind and solar plants.
ReNew is one of the three private Indian companies gearing up to go all-out on green hydrogen production. Following an agreement between India and Egypt in 2022, ReNew will build and operate a green hydrogen facility near Cairo with Elsewedy Electric, an energy provider in the Middle East and Africa. It hopes to begin shipping green hydrogen to Europe through the Suez Canal by 2027, primarily for ammonia production.
Currently, India uses only gray hydrogen, which is made from natural gas in an extremely energy-intensive process, and the country consumes about 6 million tons of it every year. India aims to generate 5.5 million tons of green hydrogen by 2030, to replace fossil fuels used in heavy industry and generate low-emissions versions of products like ammonia, which is used to make fertilizer.
ReNew is also cautiously entering India’s market for transmission, the wires that carry electricity over long distances. So far, the company has had to rely on existing transmission lines to feed its clean energy into the national grid. This is a problem because ReNew is building more solar and wind projects in rural regions with limited connectivity to the grid.
ReNew announced a new transmission project in Karnataka in early 2023 to connect one of its wind farms to the national grid. And ReNew recently got the Indian Ministry of Power’s approval to set up transmission lines for its 250 MW solar energy project in Bikaner.