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Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, Amit Kumar, Director, Energy-Environment Technology Development Division,, The Energy and Resources Institute

India is a 'solar' rich country. It has been estimated that even if only 1.25 percent of its geographical area is used, the available solar energy would be nearly 26 times the commercial energy consumption. But somehow, solar energy was never accorded the importance, commensurate with the potential we have - till recently. With an aim to address energy security and climate change concerns, India embarked on a very ambitious journey by launching Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) towards building Solar India. Though the country has been actively working on a variety of renewable energy technologies for about three decades now, in terms of vision and scale, JNNSM is truly path-breaking and transformational.

While JNNSM is being talked about only in the context of 20 GW of solar power by the year 2022, it may be pointed out that JNNSM is much more than utility-scale solar power. It is worth mentioning that the canvas of solar energy utilisation in the country is pretty vast. This indigenous resource can be used to meet the requirements of thermal energy as well as electricity in domestic, industrial and commercial sectors. On the applications side, at the high end, there are megawatt level solar thermal power plants whereas at the lower end there are domestic appliances such as solar cooker, solar water heater and PV lanterns. And in between of these two ends of spectrum are applications such as industrial process heat, desalination, refrigeration and air-conditioning, drying, large scale cooking, water pumping, domestic power systems, and passive solar architecture. JNNSM targets all of these and its other goals include:

  • To promote programmes for off grid applications, reaching 1,000 MW by 2017 and 2,000 MW by 2022.
  • To achieve 15 million sq. meters solar thermal collector area by 2017 and 20 million by 2022.
  • To deploy 20 million solar lighting systems for rural areas by 2022.
  • To create favourable conditions for solar manufacturing capability, particularly solar thermal for indigenous production and market leadership.

Given the ambitious goals set under JNNSM, the main challenge lies in translating the intents into practice, i.e., the implementation strategy. It is not that we are starting from a clean slate. As a result of efforts made during the past two decades, a significant infrastructure has emerged for manufacturing different solar energy systems/components, including solar PV cells and modules; solar collectors; solar water heating systems; and solar parabolic dish. Some of these have also been exported to the USA, Asian countries, Europe and Latin America, albeit sporadically. However, to quickly capitalise on the momentum, the emphasis has to be on creating a forward-looking policy and regulatory framework that facilitates, on one hand, the demand creation and on the other hand, enables the industry to take up the challenges and fulfill the defined goals.

Since achieving grid parity is one of the stated purposes of the Mission, rapid indigenisation through technology transfer, research and development, as well as through ramping up local manufacturing base is imperative. This also calls for, among others, a vibrant and mission-mode R&D.

One of the big achievements has been the fact that not only Ministry of Power is on board but has been actively involved in designing grid connected solar power schemes. While a substantial ground has been covered, as far as operationalising Phase I of JNNSM is concerned, there is a need to develop a clear roadmap for the subsequent phases, although at least in case of utility-scale power generation, a lot would depend on the success of Phase I and lessons learnt from that. However, unless market gets strong signals about the planned capacity addition through affirmative and definite actions; setting/ramping up indigenous manufacturing capacity would not move forward due to uncertainty in business environment. This, in turn, would have implications on the envisaged cost reduction - through economies of scale and localisation - major premises around which the whole programme has been developed. This indeed is a vicious circle, wherein only through bold government initiatives private sector participation could be ensured at a desired level and for instance, setting up `Solar Park' could be one of them.

The Solar Park concept is similar to a special economic zone dedicated to the generation of solar power and the manufacturing of solar components. Solar Park, about 3-5 GW in size, aims to accelerate the development of generation projects and to minimise the risk through the availability of large tracts of suitable land, the provision of common infrastructure - including, grid connection and water access-to a number of generation and manufacturing plants, attractive financing package and facilitating the permitting process. Solar Power Research and Incubation Centre could also be set up within the Solar Park.

Besides, there are other issues that require urgent attention such as, access to technology; access to finance at different levels; creating adequate evacuation capacity, as well as developing a cadre of trained personnel to take up a variety of tasks. In some of these areas, active government facilitation would be required.

Of course, in order to move forward in an earnest way, that too in a time-bound fashion, the approach would have to be radically different. This calls for a framework that is nimble, innovative, and is receptive and responsive to new ideas. Moreover, the thrust has to be on usage rather than on mere deployment, thereby necessitating adequate focus on quality assurance, performance-linked incentives, and developing the absorptive capacity. JNNSM provides a rare opportunity for India to show its vision, to demonstrate that it can lead rather than being only a follower. Also, the comparative economics of solar energy too needs to be seen not from a short-term perspective but from strategic point of view.

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