Corporates see green energy as a future business in the sector

Updated: Jan 21 2008, 06:14am hrs
Santipada Gon Chaudhuri, a leading specialist in renewable energy systems, has many achievements to his credit, including the design and building of solar, biogas and wind-power plants. Having worked as a UN expert and designer of Indias first energy park, he has been instrumental in setting up solar projects in the Sundarbans. The solar mini-grid system developed by him has been replicated in several countries, including Zambia and Bangladesh. A recipient of numerous awards, including the Green Oscar from the Ashden Trust, UK, and Germanys Euro Solar Award, Chaudhuri, who is director of the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA), spoke with FEs Indronil Roychowdhury on the prospects of the renewable energy sector. Excerpts:

Moving towards a green energy economy is often talked about. What has been Indias progress in that direction

The world is moving towards a green energy or renewable energy economy, although we are totally based on a fossil fuel economy at present. Globally, now we have 1,50,000 mw of green energy installed, which is not very high, but growth is at a rate varying from 30% to 45%. Growth in India is also at the same pace. Though in India we are progressing very quickly in the sector of wind energy, in other sectors, particularly the solar photovoltaic sector, Indias progress is not that rapid.

Indias total power requirement will be 6,50,000 mw by 2030. If we consider 8% growth and the way we have planned our capacity addition in thermal generation, we can achieve a maximum of 2,60,000 mw. Our hydro potential is around 1,50,000 mw. Even if the nuclear deal goes through, nuclear generation in India will not go beyond 50,000 mw. This adds up to 4,60,000 mw. Therefore, we will be 2,00,000 mw short of power, which has to come from renewable sources. This means 30% of the 6,50,000 mw must come from renewables. Maybe by the year 2050, we will finally switch to the green economy, but this is a transition period.

What will be the generation from various sources of renewables

Only solar energy in India has the potential to generate 6,50,000 mw. Because of the cost of solar photovoltaic technology, we are not going for solar energy on a large scale. But solar photovoltaic costs have come down significantly because of large volumes. We will also see more efficient solar cells because materials science is fast changing. It is predicted that by 2015, solar energy will be comparable with conventional energy in terms of cost, so activities relating to solar energy are expected to pick up from 2015 onwards. If we start setting up large 50-100 mw plants, solar energy will contribute significantly from 2030 onwards.

In addition, there are other renewables: biomass, mini- & micro-hydel, a little bit of tidal and also energy from municipal waste. All this put together has a potential of about 1,20,000 mw. I presume that by 2030, about 80-90% of the 12,000 mw from wind, biomass, mini- and micro-hydro and others will be generated. The remaining 1,00,000 mw will be from solar.

Cost will still be a factor

Once we have bulk generation, the cost has to come down to even below current conventional power costs. The cost of coal-based and hydro-electricity is generally Rs 3-4 per kw hour, similar to the cost of power from wind and biomass at present. But solar at present costs Rs 12 per kwh and has come down from Rs 20 per kwh in 2002. So, by 2015, the cost of solar power can be expected to come down to around Rs 4 per kwh.

Looking at the nearer future, how much will renewables contribute by the end of the 11th Plan period

It will be an additional 12,000 mw. We already generate 10,000 mw, so it will be 22,000 mw in total. Of the 12,000 mw, wind and biomass will contribute significantly, but solar will also start chipping in. At present, of 10,000 mw of green power that we generate through very small projects of 5-10 kw size, over 9,500 mw is supplied to the grid. The balance is for self-consumption. The 12,000 mw will also be distributive generation through small projects.

Is it not feasible for a large player to commercially generate 1,000 mw or 2,000,mw

It will happen only when large solar power plants are available. In wind and biomass, you can go up to a maximum size of 100 mw, although for biomass the standard size is 15-20 mw. A large-scale solar plant is feasible, particularly in desert areas like Rajasthan, Gujarat and other places, and I believe technology for that will soon be available. Companies like Reliance Industries Ltd are chalking out plans. They have already started a pilot project in West Bengal.

What is the corporate outlook on green energy Do you feel that under present circumstances, investments so far have been enough

Corporates see green energy as a future business in the electricity sector. Suzlon, Enercon, Vestas, Exide, Tata BP Solar and Moser Baer have already invested in this sector. Others like Texaco and Sharp BP Group have shown interest, particularly with the global warming issue driving them. I believe for 2,00,000 mw, 80-90% investment will come from corporates. I wish by now more corporates took an interest, but there are risk factors relating to technologylike whether a technology will soon be outdated or how much it is provenand that is always the prime concern of investors.

But I find that over the last two years, the private sector has taken a lot of interest and investments so far have been around Rs 50,000 crore. To attract more, those investing in renewable energy should be given special treatment because such investors are working to protect mother earth.