Friday, September 18, 2015

Reaching for the sun: India’s thrust for renewable energy

Original Post: Gurjit Singh, Jakarta | Opinion

Among the various initiatives launched by the government of Prime Minister Modi in India is the thrust on renewable energy particularly solar energy. 

The initiatives for Smart Cities, Skills Development, Clean Ganga, Digital India and others are also linked to the Renewable Energy Mission to be integrated since low carbon emission is part of the plans for India’s further development.

In June it was decided to enhance renewable generation to 175 GW, of which solar power generation will increase to 100 GW in seven years. This would be about a third of India’s total power generation capacity. 

This target of 100 GW of solar energy is based on the assessment that in several zones of the country sunshine is available for about 260 days annually. There is no doubt this will require a massive investment of Rs. 600,000 crores (US$90 billion) particularly since the current production is about 4,000 MW.  

What is interesting is that much of this expansion is going to be off grid through stand-alone mechanisms with the solar rooftop arrangements contributing nearly 40,000 MW.  

As per targets established by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, ground mounted installations, which can be grid connected, will increase to 57,000 MW by 2022. 

 Rooftop solar installations are expected to leap from 2,000 MW in 2015 to a production of 40,000 MW by 2022. Analysis by the Solar Energy Cooperation of India and the Institute for Energy, Economy and Finance believes that the seven-year program for rapid increase in installation is feasible.

The Indian Railways, one of the largest corporations, is also joining this effort and experimenting with solar powered locomotives and stations by using large tracts of land that the Railways own. They hope to alter the energy mix by shifting to solar energy in a big way. 

The Delhi Metro is expected to go completely solar and have surplus to provide to the central network in this period. Cochin International Airport in Kerala has become the first airport in the world to be entirely operating on solar power, an example to be followed by others.
As many as 27 solar cities have been earmarked to undertake efforts to reduce conventional energy and showing a greater utilization of renewable energy. In these cities rooftop solar installations will play a major role. At least 13 states in India have already established policies regarding rooftop solar installations.

One of the major challenges in solar energy generation is the use of land particularly to avoid use of arable or functional land.  In India the main focus has been on degraded land and rooftop utilization. 

Another important area is financing. The price of solar powered generation equipment has fallen by 75 percent in the last decade. Large scale plants today can bring solar generation to an affordable price reducing the requirement of subsidies. In India investment schemes encourage foreign companies to also invest in solar parks. 

Of the 300 proposals for setting solar power generation projects, there are several international companies who are likely to meet about 20 percent of the proposed generation. Fiscal incentives including issue of tax free bonds, which proved successful for other infrastructure projects, are on the anvil. 

Commercial banks have earmarked up to Rs. 15 crores ($2 million) for lend to this priority sector. Solar plants on top of roofs can avail of the tax incentivized home loan system of commercial banks. A recent bid for a 648 MW plant in Tamil Nadu anticipates an investment of $750 million at a bid rate of US 11 cent/kwh for 25 years
India is ready to share its experience and initiative with Indonesia as both countries need energy initiatives particularly renewable energy. 

An interesting experiment has been started by the Embassy of India which provided “scholarships” to eight rural women from the regencies of Sikka and NTS in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). 

These rural women participated in a 6-month program at the Barefoot College in Tilonia in India and returned as confident solar engineers. They returned to their villages and were provided equipment and support by the Wadah Foundation and its associates.  

In early July I had the privilege of switching on solar lights in the village of Pomat and Wolo Mude in Sikka and Kommunitas Koa in NTS in the presence of the regents and other community leaders. These women solar engineers have become community facilitators and enthused the community to build their workshops which are funded by the Wadah Foundation. They stock their equipment and spare parts as well as charging stations and have installed solar panels on the rooftop of every participating household.  

Each house there now has lights at night and the workshop has become a community centre where people can meet at night and hold classes, meetings etc. Portable solar lanterns are also provided and each participant contributed Rp 30,000 ($2.1) to the workshop for providing maintenance services. In most of these villages there was no electricity at all and it was a moment of joy to the people of these villages.

In the fishing village of Wuring Lembah which had electricity, solar lanterns have been provided to all the fishermen who have replaced their expensive kerosene lanterns. 

Earlier they used to spend Rp 60,000 for kerosene lanterns but now they contribute Rp 30,000 each to the workshop for maintenance. This project has shown the validity of solar power in remote villages and has also served to empower women.  

Now that this cooperation is in place, cooperation for large size power plants can be undertaken to tap solar energy and reduce both cost and application of fossil fuels.

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