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Dr. Praveen Saxena, Director General, National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE)

12 Mar 2015

‘Global renewable energy meet to help realise mammoth target’

Dr. Praveen Saxena, Director General, National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE) and Advisor, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) talks to Neeraj Dhankher on what is being done by the government to promote solar power in India in a big way. Excerpts.

There has been lot of movement on the solar energy front with the government learnt to have set an ambitious target to install 100 GW of solar power capacity by 2022, as against 20 GW target at present. In this regard, what are MNRE’s plans to promote solar industry?

Today the country has an installed capacity of a little over 255,000 MW and renewable is contributing about 33,000 MW which is 12.9 percent. Within this portfolio of renewable of 33,000 MW, the biggest share is of wind which is about 22,000 MW. Hydro and bio energy are contributing approximately 4,000 MW each and solar is about 3000 MW. This 3000 MW has come up only in the last two and a half years, whereas other technologies have been there in the field for last 20 years or so.

Now seeing the success of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), government has very ambitious plans. As per JNNSM, we were to add about 20,000 MW of solar capacity by 2022, which is being upscaled. The Prime Minister has asked us to scale up this activity and take it to the next level. In fact, he has been talking about revising the targets and taking it up to 100,000 MW. The ministry is working towards that very closely and trying to find ways and means as to how this 100,000 MW target which is being thought of, can be realised.

We are exploring various possibilities, talking to various states, private investors. In this direction one major step which we are taking is the first Renewable Energy Global Investment Promotion Meet being organized by MNRE in February. The global investment meet would be inaugurated by the Prime Minister. We are trying to see what kind of a response we have as to how we can achieve the target of 100,000 MW. We are expecting that a large industry would participate, Indian as well as international investments would come in renewable sector in general and solar in particular and we will be able to realise our ambition of manifold increase in capacity of renewable energy, both in solar as well in wind sector. We are also trying to promote other renewables like small hydro and bio mass.

What has brought about this change in mindset of leapfrogging the target for solar?

The Prime Minister’s “Make in India” concept has injected a large amount of energy in all of us. In fact he himself said that we must immediately scale up the 20,000 MW solar capacity target. The “Make in India” concept does not mean that you make only machineries; making electricity is also a part of the same. And if we are able to generate more power, make renewable energy as a sustainable sector, we will be extremely happy and will be able to contribute towards “Make in India”. The investors meet planned in February, 2015, is the first in the chain of “Make in India” by the Central Government.

What are the foreseeable challenges in scaling up the solar capacity to the proposed level?

I am sure there are lots of challenges but it is still possible to attract investment. Attracting investment does not seem to be that difficult as long as we are able to assure that whatever investment they make, a sizeable amount of return is coming from the sector. That is the bigger challenge that investments do get proper returns. It is to be assured that whatever electricity is generated from these projects is purchased and evacuated properly and a proper infrastructure is in place to achieve that. Hence, we have to work very closely with the states and distribution companies so that power generated from all renewable energy sources are evacuated effectively.

Is the mammoth solar capacity addition target feasible?

We will make it feasible. It appears to be a tall order but as we are moving forward, we are seeing a lot of enthusiasm in the private sector and among state governments. Every state wants to have renewable energy projects. As we are moving forward, the ways are opening up themselves. No doubt we have to make focused efforts but ways are opening up. I am sure that renewable energy looks to be the energy for future which will give lot of business opportunities as well.

An ultra mega solar power project was earlier proposed at Sambhar in Rajasthan but got shelved eventually. What was the reason?

The project got derailed because land was given by the state government for a specific purpose and they raised an objection that it cannot be used for any other purposes also. But there are many other opportunities. In fact, BHEL themselves are planning to go in a big way. We have assessed the potential of about 748 GW of solar just taking into account 3 percent of the wasteland. So I feel that even if one project has not come up, others would definitely come up.

What are MNRE’s plans for promoting solar on rooftops?

Along with wastelands, we also have enormous possibilities of doing solar on small rooftops. Now we have number of states which have announced policies for rooftops. Haryana is one example. Delhi appears to be another state which would come up with a policy on rooftops. I am sure as we move forward we will have more openings and more possibilities.

What lessons have we learnt during the implementation of JNNSM?

The National Solar Mission has given a lot of lessons to us. Before launching the mission, we were not able to see various dimensions in the sector. Today, at least we know more about the private sector and what kind of incentives they want, how do we give them sufficient confidence that they should come into the picture. The same is also true of the public sector. So it has given us a mixed opportunity on how we can work with the private and public sector to motivate them to come into the solar field. The experience of the last three years is being fully utilised to plan our activities. The National Solar mission is surely a success.

What policy interventions are required to promote solar industry?

The Electricity Act, 2003, is being amended with positive approach for renewable energy. The act is now being modified suitably to accommodate more renewable energy in the electricity sector. In fact, the best thing that has happened is that the electricity sector has started recognising renewable as part of their energy basket. Once, this is done, half of our battle is won.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to make India the easiest destination to do business with focus on a predictable, transparent and fair policy environment. What are your views?

Whatever the Prime Minister says, it is our duty to get that realized. If he feels that ease of doing business is to be given a push, it is our responsibility to make sure that we do our best to achieve that.

What according to you needs to be done to make “Make in India” campaign a success? Companies in the USA, for one, are learnt to be apprehensive over the possibilities for use of foreign technology?

Make in India has to be done. Whatever may happen, we have to increase our industrial production. There are no two opinions in that. India would develop only if its industry grows. How we bring in technology, how we become internationally competitive would be seen, but that has to happen. Collaborations are possible. We must learn as early as possible to be at par with international technology. Anybody’s presence is a reality and we must work towards competing. Once we start competing with them, it will bring lot of strength to us.

The government is also giving a push towards setting up of solar ultra mega power projects along with solar parks. What is your take on that?

We can’t achieve such high solar targets unless we have UMPPs. They would bring economies of scale, give lot of lessons as to how we should do large size projects. We better learn to handle the challenges.

Technologically, solar is something which is well understood now. It is a matter of scaling up, and in this scaling up if you have some technical challenges then you have to find solutions. I am sure there is no reason why we cannot find these solutions. I feel next 10 years would be very positive for the solar industry.

The government is also giving a push towards setting up of solar ultra mega power projects along with solar parks. What is your take on that?

We can’t achieve such high solar targets unless we have UMPPs. They would bring economies of scale, give lot of lessons as to how we should do large size projects. We better learn to handle the challenges.

Technologically, solar is something which is well understood now. It is a matter of scaling up, and in this scaling up if you have some technical challenges then you have to find solutions. I am sure there is no reason why we cannot find these solutions. I feel next 10 years would be very positive for the solar industry.