Support policy crucial for India’s solar sector
An advisor on renewable energy to the government of West Bengal, Dr S P Gon Chaudhuri has been in the RE sphere for over 25 years. A specialist in photovoltaic system engineering and design, he is credited with executing a number of Solar PV projects both in India and abroad. He speaks to Upendra Singh on what lies in store for the clean energy sector in India and what can be done to better the momentum
Q. Renewable energy is touted as an alternative to conventional power generated from fossil fuels. Do you think that renewable energy sources have the potential to overcome the power crisis in India?
A: The potential of renewable energy is huge in India; it is over 10 lakh MW, including solar. However, there’s a catch too, since most of the renewable energy sources are climate dependent and may not be considered as firm power. As such, India has to depend on some base load station which generates highly predictable power (say coal or nuclear). Renewable power can then supplement such base load station to reduce fuel consumption and emission reduction. Though renewable energy alone cannot solve the power crisis in India, it will play a significant role in reducing the consumption of coal in the country. Consumer-based solar products are also likely to play a major role in demand side management, which could be treated as indirect power generation.
Q. In recent times, a number of local and foreign investors have shown interest in the renewable energy sector, but still, there are apprehensions on the part of investors. In your opinion, what needs to be done to attract investors in the green energy sector?
A: There are a number of issues that need to be addressed for India to succeed as a renewable energy destination. In order to attract investors for both grid-connected and off-grid projects, we really need to bring strict laws and make sure that they are adhered to. There is a need to indicate the status of renewable energy purchase obligation (RPO) of respective states indicating year-wise target and achievement. Also, there should be a transparent methodology of selection of investors. The land policy of the state too should be made transparent.
Evacuation of power and issues related to grid connectivity are often the major barriers perceived in the sector. Thus, there should be clear-cut grid connectivity policy of the state. As in the case of biomass projects, a suitable fuel supply chain with price escalation clause needs to be put in place. Declaration of RE power shortfall every year by the power utilities will enable investors to take investment decisions. Also, there should be a penalty clause in case power utilities do not fulfill the RPO obligation, and a public notification of the same. All regulatory commissions may have Member (RE) to ensure effective implementation of RE obligation. As a gesture of encouragement, the power utilities who perform well in achieving their RE obligation, should be rewarded.
Q: Over 125,000 villages in India are still not connected with the electricity grid and the rural folks are forced to live in darkness. What role can renewables play in electrifying rural India?
A: Renewable energy can play a major role in electrifying rural India provided the programme is executed through Energy Service Provider Route and a suitable financial model is drawn up. We must remember today’s unelectrified village shall become electrified tomorrow, and the power cost will likely become cheaper. However, for the renewable energy to succeed, we need to think about a sustainable model under such scenario. The programme of Ministry of Power (MoP) and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) should be drawn up jointly through an expert group. Right now, we are witnessing a transition period from fossil fuel to renewable energy. At this stage, interface and coordination between two ministries are very important. We must formulate policy and regulation for RE power, both for grid-connected system and the off-grid system. Rural areas need small generation projects as well as voltage support project to improve the quality of existing power network. Decentralised distributed generation (DDG) should be encouraged in rural areas, as the life cycle cost of electricity (in case of solar lanterns and solar homes), should involve the extension of distribution network to rural areas along with small-scale generation of power from renewable sources.
Q: You have been one of the pioneers in India in the field of photovoltaic (PV) engineering and design with a rich experience of executing a number of solar PV projects in India and abroad. How do you see the solar energy market evolving over the next decade?
A: Installing the first off-grid large size solar power plant in India in 1993 at Sagar Island of Sundarbans and the first MW solar power plant (grid connected) of the country in 2009 at Asansol, have been very memorable. As far as solar PV is concerned, it is definitely going to witness a dramatic change over the next decade. The dependence on utility-based power plant will reduce significantly. The price of solar PV power in the next decade shall be in the range of `4.0 to `5.0 per kwh, whereas the price of coal-based electricity will touch `10.00 per kwh. I personally feel that solar PV will be a much more popular route of power generation than solar thermal.
With regard to the solar market, I’m sure it will be a huge big market in the next decade. Also, I hope that it will be controlled in the open market policy since nobody can regulate solar power (small or big). Consumer-oriented PV products like solar lanterns, solar mobile phone chargers, solar garments with Nano technology based solar cell, solar park and garden lights, solar water heaters, solar torch etc. will capture the market. Net metering (surplus power selling in to the grid) shall become a very popular concept in both urban and rural areas. Rooftop solar power will be highly visible too. Renting of roof for generation of solar power is likely to become a profitable business and most of the new houses shall be constructed to accommodate more solar panels on the roof.
Q: The total solar energy potential in India is huge and this may contribute significantly towards bridging the gap between supply and demand. How hopeful are you about the efforts taken in India towards realising that goal?
A: The Jawaharlal National Solar Mission (JNNSM) is a good initiative. I wrote the initial concept note of National Solar Mission in 2005 and submitted the same to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the full support of some members of the Parliament (Late Chittabrata Majumdar, Brinda Karat, Suresh Prabhu, Basudeb Accharya are some of them). Subsequently, the Prime Minister announced the JNNSM with a target of installing 20,000 MW solar power by 2022. I’m optimistic about achieving the target; however, it will be a difficult task unless and until all the states do not take part in the programme. The government alone cannot handle such a huge task. India will need 9,00,000 MW of power in 2031-32 from which at least 1,00,000 MW needs to be generated from solar in order to bridge the gap between supply and demand. Strengthening of the grid will also be a major task. Moreover, the national solar programme needs to be supplemented by state solar programmes, only then will we be able to realise our goal. Installation of solar power plants should be distributed throughout the country with 72 hours’ generation forecast ensured to manage the grid in a proper manner.
Q: Is it true that India has lost the solar PV race to China? If so, what can be done to gain ground?
A: Slow and steady wins the race. There is no doubt China is doing well, but I don’t think India has lost out. Our solar PV programme has lacked proper attention from the administrators and our solar policy has never been drawn up with a visionary approach. It has often been observed that real issues are not addressed properly. If we do that, there is no doubt that we can go ahead of China in the decade. Therefore, a support policy is crucial for the promotion of solar energy in India.
Q: What, in your opinion, are the hurdles which need to be overcome for India to become a super power in solar energy?
A: The first and foremost thing is the freedom to use new solar technologies and creation of enough infrastructures for solar power evacuation. Distribution of solar power plants from East to West to enhance power generation hours (the sun rises an hour earlier in West Bengal and sets one hour later in Rajasthan) will help matters a great deal too and we can get almost 14 hours of solar power.
Degraded and drought-prone areas should be earmarked for solar farm projects through an Act. There is also the option of setting up dedicated solar power plants at existing pump storage projects. For example, the Purulia pump storage scheme in West Bengal consumes 1,000 MW and delivers 900 MW. This could be converted into the world’s largest solar plant and also be financially viable if both the Centre and state government take the initiative. In order to popularise solar power in the country, feed-in-tariff should be introduced in small rooftop systems. Making solar power generation a people’s business will also help matters a great deal.
Q: Unlike the US, UK, Germany, Norway and China, research in the renewable sector in India is lacking. Do you see things changing in the near future? What measures would help better the prospects?
A: We are lagging in research and development (R&D) activities since we do not have proper infrastructure. Scientists in the government sector are also not very supportive and are mostly involved in administrative activities. Reform is necessary in this sector and a result-oriented funding concept must be encouraged. Private industries should get funds for R&D activities along with their own investments. Additionally, India should concentrate more in field-level research where the US, Japan, UK and Germany are lagging, as it would be really difficult for us to match them in basic research. Routine funding in basic research projects has not created any significant impact in India’s solar energy sector. Most of our solar industries have tied up with foreign technology partners and I do not find anything wrong in it. Chinese research activities are more grassroots oriented and we should try something similar in India too.
Q. What has been the major achievement of West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation Ltd. (WBGEDCL) in your guidance as the Managing Director?
A: The formation of WBGEDCL was a big issue. As managing director of the corporation, I executed India’s first MW level solar PV project and connected the same with DVC grid in September, 2009. I also solarised the first Rajbhavan of the country in Kolkata with a grid-connected solar PV power plant which was inaugurated by President Pratibha Patil in 2010. A solar farm (40 MW) in Purulia district of West Bengal was also initiated by me. WBGEDCL prepared the Solar Energy Vision Plan of ONGC under my leadership. The Energy Infrastructure Plan of Sundarbans was also prepared under my leadership with funding from the World Bank. During my tenure in the Ministry of Power, the Indian government sanctioned a major DDG project for Sundarbans with a new concept, which is currently under execution.
Now, we need a corporation at the national level, in the form of a National Renewable Power Development Corporation like NTPC or NHPC. This will give a major boost and help commercialise the RE programme in India. In fact, I had mentioned this concept in the Parliament in 2007 and 2008 and the Centre is planning to form such a corporation for the promotion of renewable energy.
1. The first solar housing complex in Kolkata was designed by him. He was also the first to introduce solar lantern and remote solar PV based communication in India
2. A member of the Energy Advisory Committee in the DST, he has published over 50 papers in the RE sector with special reference to Solar PV applications in the remote rural areas. He has also written four books on solar energy application, climate and energy conservation
3. A member of the 2035 Vision Plan for India, he is also on a number of committees of the state and Central government which deal with issues related to renewable energy and climate. Dr Chaudhuri has also served the UN as an energy consultant
4. He has been awarded the National Science Academy gold medal, Ashden Award from UK, European Solar Award from Germany, Asia Pacific PVSEC Award and the CBIP Award
First RE College in Kolkata
An institute off EM Bypass at Madurdaha, Kolkata, is all set to go down in the annals of history as one of the first RE colleges in the country. To be inaugurated by Dr R K Pachauri, it will enable students get a diploma certified by Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the technical education department of the government of Queensland state, Australia.
It was whilst interacting with officials of the Queensland state government’s technical education that the idea to incept the college struck S P Gon Chaudhuri, who will also head the institution as chairman. Set up by a society with its own funding, NB Institute for Rural Development (NBIRT), also headed by Chaudhuri, will offer a one-year diploma course including two semesters. However, the total course fee is yet to be chalked out.
On the need for establishing the college, Chaudhuri told Energy Next, “India’s emerging green job sector holds out the promise of 6.5 million jobs by the end of the decade as investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies soar. According to the report released by the Climate Group, the wind sector could create between 1,50,000 to 2,50,000 jobs by 2020. Similarly, the solar industry could generate between 1,17,000 to 2,35,000 jobs. About 5 million jobs could come from growing biofuels.