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New Delhi — India is pushing ahead with its renewable energy ambitions, but that is not expected to make a dent on plans to pursue refining capacity expansion in the coming years, a sign that oil demand growth is far from its peak in one of Asia's leading energy consumers.

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Delegates attending the three-day Petrotech conference in New Delhi were of the view that aggressive downstream investment strategy pursued in India by leading global oil majors like Saudi Aramco, Rosneft, Trafigura, Shell and Total means that the country's appetite for oil will stay robust in the coming years.

"India remains an attractive market for energy companies, with energy demand expected to more than double by 2040," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the conference. "India has the fourth-largest refining capacity in the world. This will further grow by about 200 million mt by 2030."

While India is expected to add about 113 million mt/year (2.27 million b/d) of capacity by the way of brownfield expansions, along with diversification to petrochemicals production, by 2030, some 78 million mt/year of capacity would be added by the way of greenfield expansions, which would include new petrochemical complexes, delegates said.

However, some delegates and analysts said that a few of those projects would likely get delayed beyond 2030, as some companies were moving ahead slowly and cautiously because of the changing global energy landscape.

India's current refining capacity stands below 250 million mt/year. While the state-run sector accounts for more than 140 million mt/year of the total capacity, the private sector has a capacity of nearly 88 million mt/year, with Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy being key players. Various other joint ventures contribute to the remaining volumes.

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, or ADNOC, said that the UAE was looking to invest in the Indian downstream sector.

"India is not only an important market for us, India is also a strategic partner. The United Arab Emirates will continue to always look for ways to enhance our avenues of cooperation," he added.

One of the biggest projects that's being planned is a mega refinery-cum-petrochemicals complex in the western coast of India -- the Ratnagiri refinery -- which would have an annual capacity of 60 million mt. It is being jointly built by the three state-run refiners -- Indian Oil Corp., Hindustan Petroleum Corp. and Bharat Petroleum Corp. Saudi Aramco and ADNOC have signed an initial agreement to jointly take stake in that project.

Some analysts said that the project could face delays as the land acquisition process had not been completed yet.

"We are still at an early stage. We are still in the process of defining the scope and scale of the project. We are working very closely with our partners Saudi Aramco as well as our counterparts in India," Jaber said.

TRANSPORT FUELS TO BE THE MAIN DRIVER

The relatively sharper growth in demand for transport fuels will be the main driver of refining growth over the next two decades, delegates said.

While the passengers car segment would witness a compound annual growth rate of close to 9% over the next two decades, the commercial vehicle segment would grow annually by about 6% in the same period. Air traffic would also post robust growth.

This means that the share of transport fuels in India's oil demand basket would rise to nearly 60% by 2040, from slightly below 50% at present. This increase would be much higher that the average global consumption growth for transport fuels of about 2%-3% points expected over the same period.

"Foreign direct investment by a Rosneft-led consortium in Nayara Energy and an agreement by Saudi Aramco and ADNOC to acquire stake in the Ratnagiri greenfield refinery demonstrate that oil majors see long-term value in the Indian refining and fuel retailing segments," petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects India's total oil product demand to grow by 230,000 b/d in 2019 on the back of robust economic activity, and on expectations that the gross domestic product will grow by 7.2% this year.

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India last year formulated a National Biofuel Policy, under which research on second and third generation biofuels is being promoted. About a dozen second generation bio-refineries are being set up in 11 states. The ethanol-blending and biodiesel program also aims to reduce carbon emissions.

"Solar energy is also emerging as a competitive and most sustainable energy alternative globally," Pradhan said.

"The convergence of cheaper renewable energy technologies, digital applications and the rising role of electricity will form the basis for achieving many of the world's sustainable development goals," he added.

-- Sambit Mohanty, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Ratnajyoti Dutta, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Shashwat Pradhan, newsdesk@spglobal.com