By M.V.S. Prasad
World’s production and use of energy over the past two decades have shown striking changes. Use of electricity has risen phenomenally resulting in a remarkable difference in the pattern of energy consumption. The initial options that we had for switching fuel resource presented larger challenges in terms of global warming coupled with almost dwindling fossil fuel resources.
When we look at the world’s energy resources, oil, natural gas and coal seem to be still riding the crest and the contribution of renewable seems marginal at this juncture.
Solar energy seems to enjoy a better edge over the others at this juncture due to vigorous pursuit to transform it into an attractive and economic option. Power consumption in India has been increasing fast due to population growth and economic development. India has tremendous energy needs and faces an uphill task in meeting these requirements through traditional means of power generation.
The Indian economy faces increasing challenges because energy supply is struggling to keep pace with demand, and there are energy shortages of 10-13% daily almost everywhere in the country. Because India has so many black-outs, many factories and households use emergency generators and inverters as back-ups. This back-up power could be supplied by solar energy.
Solar has the potential to transform the Indian economy in the same way as the Information Technology (IT). India is in a unique position to introduce clean energy solutions on an enormous scale to provide affordable energy for everyone – especially the poor. From an energy security perspective, solar is the most secure of all sources, since it is abundantly available. Theoretically, a small fraction of the total incident solar energy (if captured effectively) can meet the entire country’s power requirements. It is also clear that given the large proportion of poor and energy un-served population in the country, every effort needs to be made to exploit the relatively abundant sources of energy available to the country. The National Solar Mission has targeted to deploy 20 million solar lighting systems for rural areas by 2022.
India is blessed with about an estimated 5000 TWh of solar radiation. This vast resource can be tapped to meet the growing energy demand. Even if a tenth of this potential is utilised, it could solve the country’s power problems. India could lead the world by embracing solar power, if favourable policies and business models are evolved and implemented nationwide.
India should take full advantage of this golden opportunity because solar energy has particular relevance in remote and rural areas, where around 289 million people live without access to electricity. Solar energy is the most cost-effective option for India to reduce energy poverty without having to extend national grid services to provide power for individual homes and buildings. Solar energy to power computers to assist learning in schools and hostels, Management Information System (MIS) to assist better management of forests, powering milk chilling plants, empowering women Self Help Groups (SHGs) involved in tussar silk reeling, cold chain management for Primary Health Centres (PHCs) are some examples of new areas, being tried successfully in the country.
A State/UT wise list of grid solar power projects commissioned so far is as follows:
S.No. State / UT Capacity (kWp)
1 Andhra Pradesh 100
2 Arunanchal Pradesh 25
3 Gujarat 5000
4 Karnataka 6000
5 Kerala 25
6 Madhya Pradesh 100
7 Maharashtra 1000
8 Punjab 2325
9 Rajasthan 4950
10 Tamil Nadu 5050
11 Uttar Pradesh 375
12 Uttarakhand 50
13 West Bengal 1150
14 Andaman & Nicobar 100
15 Delhi 2142
16 Lakshadweep 750
17 Puducherry 25
18 Others 790
Launching the National Action Plan on Climate Change on June 30, 2008, the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said “our vision is to make India’s economic development energy-efficient. Over a period of time, we must pioneer a graduated shift from economic activity based on fossil fuels to one based on non-fossil fuels and from reliance on non-renewable and depleting sources of energy to renewable sources of energy. In this strategy, the sun occupies centre-stage, as it should, being literally the original source of all energy. We will pool our scientific, technical and managerial talents, with sufficient financial resources, to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people. Our success in this endeavour will change the face of India. It would also enable India to help change the destinies of people around the world.”
The National Solar Mission is a major initiative of the Government of India and State Governments to promote ecologically sustainable growth while addressing India’s energy security challenge. It will also constitute a major contribution by India to the global effort to meet the challenges of climate change. The National Action Plan on Climate Change also points out: “India is a tropical country, where sunshine is available for longer hours per day and in great intensity. Solar energy, therefore, has great potential as future energy source. It also has the advantage of permitting the decentralized distribution of energy, thereby empowering people at the grassroots level”.
Solar is currently high on absolute costs compared to other sources of power such as coal. The objective of the Solar Mission is to create conditions, through rapid scale-up of capacity and technological innovation to drive down costs towards grid parity. The Mission has set an ambitious target to create an enabling policy framework for the deployment of 20,000 MW of solar power by 2022 and to ramp up capacity of grid-connected solar power generation to 1000 MW. The Solar Mission has set a target of 1000 MW by 2017, which may appear small, but its reach will add up to bringing changes in millions of households .For the first phase,a target has been fixed to set up 1,100 MW of grid connected solar power plants by March, 2013.
Asia’s first and largest Solar Park has been set up at Charanka in Gujarat. The 3000 acre state of the art park has generation capacity of 500 MW with training facilities as well. Incidentally, Gujarat has taken the lead in solar power generation and has been contributing 2/3rds of total 900 MW solar power generated in the country. The state government is also working on a solar energy policy, which is likely to be launched soon.
India is endowed with vast solar energy potential. About 5,000 trillion kWh per year energy is incident over India’s land area with most parts receiving 4-7 kWh per sq. m per day. Hence both technology routes for conversion of solar radiation into heat and electricity, namely, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic, can effectively be harnessed providing huge scalability for solar in India.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) industry has demonstrated unprecedented growth over the recent past, with increased demand for solar power attracting more and more players into the market. The price of solar panels has come down considerably. This has made solar technology more competitive. The Government may consider favourable tax structures as well as provide financial resources for community solar farms as part of the energy development programmes.
Solar irradiance, economic installation costs, Government support and financing conditions in all probability, are likely to drive the growth of the solar photo-voltaic technology. The falling generation cost is another encouraging factor for the technology to emerge as the largest and most stable demand segment. Power cannot be produced at night or cloudy days is history as concentrated solar power plants and Nano-antennas are being developed to capture residual heat to overcome this limitation. Remote communities could eventually make their own solar cells using waste vegetation, thanks to a design developed by researchers in Switzerland and the United States. The technology is inspired by photosynthesis
Most of the solar installations are supported by incentives. However, until the efficiency of solar cell improves and the cost of generation competes with that of conventional energy, solar energy can only have a limited role.
Solar energy is a win-win for India and the environment, and India should make it a mainstream component of its energy diversification. There is really no better economical choice for the country. Renewable energy is also an attractive investment opportunity because it will provide long-term economic growth for the country. A favourable renewable energy policy could create millions of jobs.
As American economist and author Jeremy Rifkin rightly said, India can usher in a third industrial revolution by properly utilising its renewable energy resources. In fact, progress on renewable energy front could determine the future road map for human sustainability.
Solar Energy has the potential to re-energise India’s economy by creating millions of new jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce the trade deficit and propel the nation forward as a ‘green nation’. In short, solar power offers too many benefits for India to ignore or delay its development.
(Joint Director, PIB, Chennai)