On clean energy, India has wind at its back, sun ahead

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Published: September 22, 2017 4:16:42 AM

India had an installed wind power capacity to the tune of 32.28GW till the end of 2016-17. While we installed 5.4GW (exceeding the target of 4GW) in 2016-17 and 3.423GW (a record then) in 2015-16, its energy programme may be choked for 2017-18 and 2018-19, because it added just about 0.228GW in the first quarter of the current year.

How solar and wind power can help India achieve ambitious energy targets

To combat climate change, the world is taking recourse to production of green and renewable energy like solar and wind, along with other forms of clean energies like hydro, biomass, natural gas and nuclear. Of these, achieving solar and wind energy targets in particular is very important for India. Let us evaluate the present state of installation/generation of our solar and wind energy targets planned to be achieved by 2022, which comprise of 100GW of solar and 60GW of wind power. This target of 160GW is, perhaps, likely to be raised to 275GW by 2027 when solar and wind energy production may overtake coal-based thermal power. This would be a landmark step towards creating a ‘new India’, if and when it happens.

At present, our total installed solar energy capacity is 14.28GW (12.28GW of ground mounted and 2GW of roof-top power), while our target for these two is 60GW and 40GW, respectively, by 2022. This may be difficult for two reasons. One, roof-top solar power generation is just 2GW, and this has to be raised to a huge 40GW. The roof-top clientele is small as of now, because there is no sound legal framework for roof-top power contracts. This would have to be put in place, otherwise it may lead to NPAs and, as a result, people would lose jobs. Two, we have a production capacity of 1,400MW of solar cells and 5,600MW of solar modules, which are also struggling to be globally competitive. We need to pay attention to this aspect meaningfully for enhancing solar energy production.

India had an installed wind power capacity to the tune of 32.28GW till the end of 2016-17. While we installed 5.4GW (exceeding the target of 4GW) in 2016-17 and 3.423GW (a record then) in 2015-16, its energy programme may be choked for 2017-18 and 2018-19, because it added just about 0.228GW in the first quarter of the current year. The reason is that state discoms have practically stopped signing PPAs for projects agreed upon earlier when tariffs were higher (Rs 4-6) and now they have come down to Rs 3.46—the latest bid is even lesser, at Rs 3.42. The government needs to move fast to resolve this issue, otherwise our ambitious wind energy would be seriously hit.

Having discussed specific hurdles facing the production of solar and wind energy in India, the government needs to take action in the following areas.
• To meet the shortage of skilled workers, the Green Skill Development Council (under MNRE) should design refresher courses every two years or so for upgrading their skills;
• The government must invest in public institutions for carrying out R&D in solar and wind energy sectors for cutting-edge technologies. The developers from the private sector should also be incentivised to invest in R&D and they should understand that it is in their own interest to do so;
• The cost of credit still remains high for solar and wind projects, and it needs to be taken care of soon;
• Following the phasing out of tax incentives from FY19, there is need for better management of resource allocation to enhance capacity for evacuation and supply of renewable energy.
Our current requirement of about 330GW of energy, which is estimated to increase by about 120% in 2030, appears to be insufficient if the government has to come good on its promise of providing power to all by 2022. Here, it is necessary to know that, according to the definition of the government, a village is taken as electrified if just 10% of its households have been provided power, which is a flawed concept in itself. There are six lakh villages in our country and providing power to all households would need much more power generation. Moreover, our economy has not been growing at the rate we would like it to, which means more power requirement. Also, replacing fossil fuels in automobiles by electricity, as the government noted recently, would massively increase demand of electricity.

We should meet our energy needs mostly through solar and wind resources for which, fortunately, India has a rich potential of 900GW and 300GW, respectively. Here, it may be noted that a research published in journal Joule had asserted that India could run 100% on energy through renewable sources—sun, wind and water—by 2050. This, however, would not happen unless all impediments in production of solar and wind energy are removed with urgency.

PP Sangal
Former ISS and a UN Consultant

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