India has to hugely expand nuclear power along with its entire power system to bring electricity to 300 million people and move away from coal, according to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
At a mere 673 kWh per year on average, per capita electricity consumption in India is less than one quarter of the global average, said the IEA, highlighting its analysis of India's electricity system published in its Energy Technology Persepctives 2014. A "first priority" for India is to raise this level of power consumption, while bringing electricity to some 300 million unconnected people.
To do this will require investment across the country's entire power sector, with renewables and nuclear power at the fore if a low-carbon mix is to be achieved. Under the IEA's '2DS' scenario, where carbon dioxide emissions are curtailed enough to limit average global temperature increases to 2ºC, a range of renewables would provide 40% of electricity with nuclear supplying 15% by 2050. The use of carbon-intensive coal for power generation would fall from today's 80% to less than 20%.
The 2DS scenario also sees total power generation in India quadruple by 2050. But nuclear power would grow faster than the power sector as a whole, from a listed capacity of 5.3 GWe today to 80 GWe in 2050, according to a graph in the IEA document. This is growth by a factor of 15.
India's nuclear industry is characterised by its largely indigenous nature and reliance on the small pressurized heavy water units which make up 18 of its 21 units. The country rejected the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and was subsequently excluded from international trade due to a lack of safeguards brought in under the treaty by other countries. This anomaly has now been corrected outside the treaty and India is now able to source uranium and nuclear fuel and services on the open market. The IEA noted this has resulted in higher performance from existing nuclear power plants. According to load factors published by Nuclear Engineering International magazine, the average load factor of India's reactors reached a low of around 40% in 2008 when uranium supply was very tight. It has since risen to a record high of about 72% in 2013.
India has started one of two large Russian VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors and is talking to other reactor vendors while planning to import a variety of large units. The success of this depends on resolution of another anomaly regarding India - recent legislation that could make suppliers liable for damages resulting from a nuclear accident even many years after successful delivery of the plant. India's official stated goals for nuclear power are more ambitious than the IEA's scenario, aiming for 25% of electricity supply by 2050.