The world has added 260 gigawatts (GW) of renewable electricity in 2020 which is a significant step towards the transition from generation of fossil fuel to new and renewable energy sources. Data of the 'International Renewable Energy Agency' (IRENA) show that more than 80 per cent of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable. Solar and wind account for 91 per cent of new renewables which has brightened hope for new sources of resilient, sustainable, and clean energy. However, hydropower continues to account for the largest share of 1331 GW of the total renewable capacity of 2799 GW at the end of 2020 despite addition of 127 GW capacity of solar and 111GW capacity of wind installations. The inter-governmental organisation partly attributes the rising share of renewables of the total energy produced to net decommissioning of fossil fuel power generation in Europe, North America and for the first time across Eurasia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russian Federation and Turkey). The total fossil fuel additions fell to 60 GW in 2020 from 64 GW in 2019 which highlights a continued downward trend of fossil fuel expansion, it says. India added 5.9 GW of renewable energy from April 2020 till February 28, 2021. The country has set the target of generating 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 towards achieving the goal of 500 GW by 2030. This includes 100 GW from solar, 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from bio-power and 5 GW from small hydropower by 2022 when the country is set to observe 75 years of Independence. Commercial viability of generating cheaper power from solar and wind, as compared to thermal and nuclear power, makes these targets achievable. The country has added 117.9 GW of power generation capacity over the past six years which includes 53 GW from renewable sources and 71 GW from conventional sources. IRENA statistics reveal that China, and the United States were the two major growth markets in renewable energy in 2020. China is the world's largest market for renewable energy and added 136 GW last year with the bulk coming from 72 GW of wind and 49 GW of solar, according to the report "Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021", released by IRENA. India's 'Renewable Energy Roadmap-2030' developed by the NITI Aayog has outlined the strategic interventions are needed to achieve the targets set for climate-neutral energy supply. The National Institute of Solar Energy has estimated the country's total solar energy potential at 748.98 GW that includes 62.3 GW in the north-eastern States (13.76 GW in Assam). The National Institute of Wind Energy estimates that renewable energy from wind at 748 GW at 80-meter sub-height level can be increased to more than double if all farmlands are included, and the height is increased to 120 meters.
Hospitals set up by the Assam government in the Char areas along the course of the river Brahmaputra bear testimony to the huge potential of solar energy. Energy requirement of these hospitals is completely met from solar energy which has made healthcare accessible for the Char residents as water pumps for hospital use, running the refrigerator for storing medicines, lighting up 'Operation Theatres' at night have become possible now. As supplying conventional energy to the sandbars in the middle of the mighty river is not feasible, the solar energy has changed the health system and also lit up the residences of Char dwellers as well as people living in the remote areas across the hill districts and other places with poor coverage of conventional energy. This has helped students in such remote areas to increase their study hours while families are able to watch television channels; and, such exposures have helped to start the process of gradual mainstreaming of the poor and downtrodden families. The potential of 62 GW of solar power in the Northeast region is manifold higher than the hydropower potential of over 50000 MW, mostly in Arunachal Pradesh. Hydropower generation in the region has hit a roadblock over its cascading effects in the downstream areas. The apprehension of loss of pristine forest cover in the region due to the development of hydropower with the accompanying wanton damage to the rich biodiversity is only growing. Experts have been raising concern that mega hydropower projects in the region may not be sustainable as this gives rise to the fear of adding to the climate-change problem. Harnessing the solar and wind energy potential in the region can be the pragmatic alternative to nature-destroying mega hydel and coal-based thermal power projects. This will require the States in the region to prioritise the projects under the 'National Solar Mission' and expedite their execution. The NE States also need to impress upon the Central government against considering all hydropower projects as renewable energy projects and to instead focus on renewable sources such as solar, wind and small hydro-power projects. The Northeast can make significant contributions to country's energy transition.