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Solar Mission - 20 GW by 2022 - How to make it happen?, Shri R V Shahi, Former Secretary, Ministry of Power

We all recognise that the Indian power sector is heavily characterised by fossil fuel based power generation. Though efforts, in last few years, on enhancing hydroelectric and capacities through other renewable sources of energy such as wind, bio-mass etc., have led to a visible improvement in non-fossil fuel based installed capacity, in terms of power generation through renewable sources we would have a long way to go. Inclusive of hydro electric capacity, which constitutes about 25% of the total, the renewable generation capacity is of the order of 35%. However, in terms of electricity generation, it less than 20% (about 17% from hydroelectric plants and less than 3% from other renewable generation). Energy development programmes, therefore, have to aim at accelerating the pace of capacity additions through renewable sources of energy.

The recent controversy on the Fourth Report of the IPCC will, no doubt, somewhat dampen the enthusiasm of those who have been actively and aggressively pursuing and advocating for a highly cautious approach on energy development. However, the fact is that the challenges posed by global warming have to be effectively mitigated and addressed. Even though the Himalayan glaciers do not melt away and vanish by 2035, as was claimed by the IPCC Report earlier, and which has now been already contradicted by them, the need for reducing CO2 emissions remains relevant and valid. The Copenhagen Conference (December 2009) did not meet with any visible success, nor was such a success expected. But the issue of climate change has assumed the desired dimension in the minds of top level policy makers all over the world.

As far as India is concerned, well before Copenhagen Conference, it was fully prepared with its National Action Plan on Climate Change. The Prime Minister of India, substantially ahead of this Conference, had boldly stated that per capita CO2 emissions in India shall never to allowed to exceed that of the average of industrialised nations. The India's Action Plan on Climate Change consists of several initiatives and strategies. Many of these initiatives are proposed to be carried forward and implemented through National Missions. These initiatives include both the supply side management issues as well as demand side management challenges. One of the Missions envisaged in the National Action Plan is the National Solar Mission with a target of creating 20,000 MW by the year 2020.

Seriousness and commitment of India's belief and conviction can be truly judged by the speed of its action. During the month of January, 2010, the Government has already launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission. The Mission aims at fulfilling the target of 20,000 MW by 2022 and, in addition, an off grid capacity of 2,000 MW. By all standards, and particularly keeping in view the domestic capability and financial implications, these targets are highly ambitious. But the objectives of the Mission, which include the following, are laudable:

  • The objectives formulated in the National Solar Mission aim at making India a leader in solar energy and achieving self sufficiency in manufacturing of solar power systems and equipment.

  • The target, in the grid connected power category, is a capacity of 20 GW by 2022, followed by the target upto 100 GW by 2030 and 200 GW by 2050.

  • Encouraging participation of private sector and also increasing domestic Photo Voltaic production upto 5 GW per year by 2020.

  • By the year 2030, the aim is to achieve parity with coal based power. The implementation strategy consists of three phases - (a) Phase 1 covers the period of 2009-12, (b) Phase 2 covers the period of 2012-17 (XII Plan), (c) Phase 3 covers the period of 2017-22 (XIII Plan). During the first phase in the remaining period of XI Plan, the activities targeted include preparatory aspects such as identification of areas of potentials for grid connected solar power, roof top systems, rural area applications and solar thermal systems. During second phase (2012-17), the target is to add 7 MW. During third phase (2017-22) the total capacity is targeted to go upto 20 GW.

Right at the outset it needs to be clarified that 20 GW of solar power is not equivalent to 20 GW of other conventional power capacity. This is true not only for solar power but, in fact, all other renewable energy sources. For example a 1,000 MW wind based capacity would be equivalent to 250 MW of fossil fuel based generation capacity. In case of solar this may be even less. Therefore, while the target of 20 GW by 2022 is indeed very ambitious and challenging, we must recognise that by 2022 India's total installed capacity is projected to be more than 400 GW, and thus, solar capacity would be hardly 5% of the total capacity, and generation would be less than 2%. It is, therefore, imperative that even though it might appear highly ambitious, all efforts need to be made to achieve this target. We have to make it happen. To achieve this, involvement and participation of all agencies - Government, public sector organisations, private companies and regulatory institutions is necessary. They all need to think alike, and have all to change their present mindsets in order to orchestrate a common approach and launch concerted efforts towards implementation. I am attempting to outline a few strategies which could contribute towards fulfilling the objective.

  1. Apart from obligation to purchase power from all renewable sources, regulators throughout the country may formulate and notify the purchase obligation with specific reference to solar power. Since this will follow a path of progression, linked to the overall national target, State level targets for the year 2012, 2017, 2022 and so on (the terminal years of the respective Five Year Plans) should be determined and notified. In this regard, it is relevant to mention the step initiated by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission which distinguishes solar power from other renewable power in the matter of price.

  2. It is often said that the excessive cost of installing solar power systems and, therefore, exorbitantly higher price of solar power is a major issue. It is indeed an important factor. However, we need to appreciate that in the last five years there has been continuous decline in the capital cost of solar power systems, and, therefore, prices have also correspondingly decreased. This trend is likely to continue because technological innovations are going to be strengthened on account of global thrusts on the one hand and volumes of demand on the other. We can reasonably expect that the rate of decrease in the cost in the next five to ten years would be significantly steeper than experienced in last five to ten years. Another important factor which needs to be borne in mind is the proportion of electricity (not capacity) would be so insignificant in the range of less than 0.5% by the year 2017 and less than 2% by the year 2022, that its impact would be significantly diluted. Besides, there would be support by the Central and the State Governments, in the form of incentives, which will further dilute the impact of high cost of power.

  3. Every organisation in the power sector has a role to play. However, in the initial years we may need to focus on large organisations - both in the group of power generators and in the group of power plant equipment manufacturers. Obviously, both these teams need to be led by NTPC in the group of generating companies and BHEL in the group of manufacturing organisations. The other team members in each of the category could be at the most two or three based on their sizes of operation. Incidentally, both BHEL and NTPC have been active on fossil fuel based power - the former manufacturing such systems and the latter operating these systems, both contributing towards green house gases. It will, therefore, be logical for the society to expect that these organisations, supported by their junior partners in respective categories, play important roles in making the National Solar Mission a success.

  4. Role of technology development will be very important. NTPC and BHEL could be expected to lead and catalyse this process. They may be persuaded to set up a joint venture organisation whose primary objective would be research and technology development in the area of solar energy. Each of these organisations have derived maximum benefits from the power sector and power consumers. They owe it to them to provide substantial financial budgets, of the order of Rs. 5,000 Crores each, aggregating to Rs. 10,000 Crores, to start with. This joint venture, with this size of budgetary support, could also expect a suitable contribution from the Government of India. It should enter into technical collaboration with renowned international agencies, even if it has to be achieved on the basis of appropriate commercial considerations, should network with major technical institutions such as IIT's in respect of different components of researches, and, thus, launch a massive drive on technology development. The objective is that in a time frame of three to five years, we should be able to achieve major breakthrough to make the present technology or any future development cost effective.

  5. Large electricity generation organisations, in private and public sectors, may be obligated, linked to their installed capacities which may be based on fossil fuels, to set up solar systems which could be a specified percentage of their capacities. Though they will have the obvious advantage of declining capital cost over the years, Government notified incentives and other benefits, these should not stand in the way of these organisations fulfilling their obligations to create power generation systems as a specified for them.

  6. Just as generating companies would need to have targets, major manufacturers such as BHEL should also be given targets to engage substantially in manufacture of solar systems, and make efforts, using the economies of scale, to reduce prices. This would obviously catalyse the process of expansion of solar based capacity in the country.

  7. Private sector participation in a significant way will be essential for the success of the ambitious plan. All the organisations engaged in the energy sector, and also those who may not be in the energy sector but are large manufacturers, using substantial amount of fossil fuel based electricity, may need to be brought together to take necessary targets for solar energy to meet the overall target of the country.

  8. It may be necessary to continually review the incentive schemes to motivate solar power system operators and consumers of this power, so that they are enthused to facilitate such power systems to be developed. Since there would be significant changes in the cost, and rather rapidly, the incentive mechanism and formula will need to be reviewed every three year or so.

  9. Apart from the advantage of having a very friendly climatic system in India, providing good sun rays during eight to nine months of the year, we also have the advantage of large areas such as deserts, Kutch areas in Gujarat, and huge waste lands in different parts of the country. There are enormous potentials to set up large solar thermal systems in these places. This would, however, require suitable development of transmission systems. Experience in the field of developing wind power projects indicates that a disconnect on this subject has been responsible for many private sector not coming forward for want of transmission connectivity. Learning the required lessons from this problem, it would be desirable to present proactively and develop transmission systems in these areas, so that public and private sector organisations could be persuaded to set up generation facilities of different capacities.

  10. The existing wind power farms provide enormous scope for also laying solar systems in these areas. A hybrid approach of wind and solar in the same areas could prove very effective. Required administrative and regulatory changes in the Policies could encourage this process.

  11. There are a few examples of hybrid power generation systems which have very effectively and successfully integrated gas based power generation alongwith solar power generation to support steam turbine in combined cycle mode, and have been able to achieve better levels of utilisation of generation facilities. In India power programmes gas based combined cycle power plants are and would be playing an important role. Hence combination with solar energy support could prove useful.

The National Solar Mission needs to coordinate all these activities. Since most of these initiatives would be new, they will need to be supported and hand held, so that they are able to take off smoothly. The problems could be addressed through support by way of timely policy reviews, administrative inputs and regulatory interventions. The Mission should be proactive to interact with all the stakeholders, should be sensitive enough to capture their concerns and difficulties and engage with the concerned authorities to remedy the problems. Much will depend, apart from active commitment and cooperation of all the stakeholders and players, on how the National Mission is able to function effectively as a steering organisation to support and facilitate achievement of the objectives and targets.