Tapping the abundance
ndia has the rare distinction of being the only country—or at least amongst the very few—that has a separate ministry for renewable energy. For decades together, only psychological satisfaction was derived from this distinction. However, one can now perceive the seriousness of intent. While wind, biomass and small hydropower drove India’s renewable energy aspirations till a few years ago, the country is going all out to tap the sun’s abundance.
IIndia has pledged to have 100 GW of solar power capacity by 2020. This target is five times of what it was till around a year ago. While speculating about the target achievement is not the point here, what is striking to note is the government’s strong resolve in envisioning a target of such magnitude. The 100 GW of capacity is to come from 40 GW of rooftop installations and 60 GW of grid-connected utility-sized plants. It is very heartening to see that the environment with respect to solar energy is indeed getting conducive for India. Capital costs of solar power plants, particularly photovoltaic ones, have dropped drastically in recent years. Developers are passing on this advantage to utilities with solar tariffs dropping to sub-₹5 per unit. The much awaited grid-parity of solar energy has indeed arrived and, ahead of its time. Despite all the technical achievements of conventional grid-based rural electrification, 40 per cent of Indians still do not have access to electricity. Reaching grid-fed power to remote locations is infeasible. In such a situation, solar can prove a very efficient solution—either as rooftop plants or large plants connected via micro grids. Even a few hours of electricity, for most part of the year, can propel India’s villages to socio-economic progress. While most states are aggressively pursuing their solar power programmes through tariff-based bidding, it is indeed unfortunate to note that most states are skimping on their renewable purchase obligations. This must change. If it doesn’t, India can never experience the good that solar energy could do. The excuse that most cash-strapped discoms have—that of having to purchase costly solar power—is no longer tenable thanks to rapidly falling tariffs. India is endowed with abundant solar irradiation and also unusable land that can be gainfully repurposed for solar installations. Solar plants can be erected atop canals to prevent water evaporation apart from generating inexpensive solar energy. The opportunities are limitless, just like the sun’s energy. The time to move towards sun-based energy security is now.