Article



  • Harnessing solar and wind energy

    India has set an ambitious target of generating 100,000MW of solar energy by 2022 but does not have the technology to process sand into silicon, forcing its import in huge quantities.

    As silicon is not produced in the country, we are totally import-dependent for it. Though we have plenty of sand as raw material, we don't have the technology to process it into silicon wafers for solar cells or panels, according to former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee says.

    As setting up a solar plant is highly capital intensive owing to import of silicon for panels or photovoltaic cells, its power can only complement nuclear or other forms of energy, including renewable and conventional.Though India is a tropical country above the equator, with plenty of sunshine, especially in western, central and southern regions for at least 10 months, harnessing its energy and distributing it with minimum loss at source or in transmission is a challenge for its stakeholders in the absence of a ecosystem yet.

    We can have any installed capacity but what determines its utility and value is the quantum of energy produced in units per hour. A 1,000mw solar-based plant will not produce more than one-third of what a nuclear or thermal-based plant does per hour. Our per capita electricity consumption is about 800 kilowatt per hour, with 25 percent of the population still having no access to power. In contrast, the world's per capita consumption of power is 2,600 kw per hour. We have to generate four times the present output to meet the energy needs of our population, which will be about 1.4 billion in 20 years (2035).

    As domestic manufacturing of solar cells and panels was limited, the country is dependent on imports from China and other countries, including Germany. An estimated 4,200 MW of solar rooftop systems are expected to be installed over the next five years on residential, government, social and institutions sectors such as hospitals and educational buildings.

    With the success of rooftop solar and other initiatives, we’re beginning to head in the right direction. Germany, Japan and the U.S. state of California are fulfilling their strong solar power potential, and we could all learn from their examples. Support for rooftop solar PPP projects in India illustrates how far progress on solar has come – as well as where it’s heading. Gujarat State in India certainly does, and we see this in part through its adoption of rooftop solar initiatives. The pioneering Rooftop Solar Program in Gujarat is an example of how governments can partner with the private sector through a well-structured PPP to develop a sustainable, replicable model to implement rooftop solar PV systems. 

    The challenge is to create scale by clustering individual efforts, the same way that the challenge of a great orchestra is to fuse the sounds of each individual instrument.  When it works, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Softbank Bharti Enterprises and Foxconn recently announced a joint venture, which would invest $20 billion to set up solar power parks in India. The JV aims to produce 20 Gw of the 100-Gw solar (and 60-Gw wind) generation target set by the prime minister by 2022.

    While there are those who think 175,000 Mw of renewable energy capacity in six years is an unimaginable target, some companies nbsp;are looking at it as their ultimate goal. Movers and shakers of the solar and wind energy sectors committed 2.95 Mw of capacity addition by 2022 at RE-Invest 2015 - the government's first investment congregation for the clean energy sector. The country would need $200 billion of investment to meet the target, 70 per cent of which is likely to come from foreign investors.Like solar, India’s wind power sector has also progressed significantly in the past decade. However, only about 22% of its potential has been harnessed so far.

    The Government of India organised the Renewable Energy Global Investor’s Meet last year, drawing participation from a large number of potential investors for funding renewable energy capacity in India. The event was a grand success, with investment commitment of nearly 260,000 Mega Watts (MW) of renewable energy capacity. Additionally, the Union budget 2015-16 specifies a target of 60,000 MW of wind capacity to be added by 2022.

    These are promising developments for the wind power sector. However, capacity addition is only one aspect of the goal to achieve power generation from wind. There are other areas that require attention in order to achieve such ambitious targets for large-scale power generation from wind energy. Several factors make wind a very suitable candidate for power generation. The technology is mature, making the electricity generated from it cost effective. With increasing prices of conventional fuels and uncertainties associated with securing coal and gas supplies, wind can help reduce the average cost of power. It is a non-polluting source.

    Wind farms effectively use a small percentage of land over which they are spread, and consume very little water during operations, relative to thermal, nuclear, and solar plants. This makes them conducive for mixed usage of land, with an opportunity to use captive power for other income-generating activities. Small wind power plants can be installed in areas without access to grid electricity, thus increasing the spread of access to power. Hence, wind power has the potential to become a major contributor towards helping India achieve its quest for low-carbon inclusive growth.The official potential for on-shore wind power in India was estimated to be about 102,000 MW in 2012 (National Institute of Wind Energy). India’s wind power sector has progressed significantly in the past decade, with the installed capacity having nearly doubled during 2007-08 and 2013-14 (Central Electricity Authority (CEA)).

    Yet only about 22% of India’s official wind potential has been harnessed so far. Even if the conservative official potential is utilised efficiently, it can provide for 1 % of the aggregate electricity demand expected in 2022 (18th Electric Power Survey 2012, CEA). The government is in the process of revising its official potential 5. Meanwhile, CSTEP’s (Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy) studies suggest that wind power up to 120,000 MW can be installed by 2030 if supported with a suitable policy environment. Hence, it is evident that potential is not a barrier for wind to contribute significantly to the energy mix.

    A closer look at how the sector has developed so far brings to the fore various factors – besides potential - that have constrained its growth. For instance, absorption of the generated power into the electricity grid has been particularly difficult. Another major concern is the lack of clarity on duration of policy support. To compensate for inadequate state-level tariffs for wind power, the Government of India introduced two policy instruments to promote wind power nationally: Accelerated Depreciation (AD), which is a tax saving benefit, and Generation-Based Incentive (GBI), which results in increased revenues for wind projects. The two schemes were introduced in 2002 and 2009 respectively leading to a steady growth in capacity addition. With effect from March 2012, both the schemes were withdrawn, followed by a drop in wind power capacity addition; the capacity added in 2012 and 2013 was less than half of that added in 2011.

    The GBI was reinstated in August 2013, after which the growth picked up again. However, details on how long it will last are not known. Additionally, there is no mention of the official status of the AD scheme in the Union budget 2015-16. Such frequent changes and uncertainty about how long the incentives will last, has led to an increase in the risk perception of investors.Other issues plaguing the wind industry in India include non-availability of suitable land, lack of coordination among stakeholders, and operational issues of grid management owing to the variable and unpredictable nature of the resource. 

    To ensure that the wind power generated does not go unutilised, adequate transmission capacity has to be put in place. Since wind projects typically have a life span of 20 to 25 years, there is a need for clarity on the time horizon for the lapse of supportive policies such as AD and GBI. In the long run, state-level tariffs should be rationalised based on improvements in technology to adequately compensate generators. Since the technology is cost competitive, government incentives would be required only until state tariffs become sufficient. They need to be phased-out when the industry can sustain itself, or move to competitively discovered price mechanisms.Wind power projects are currently exempt from environmental impact assessments. However, with plans to scale up, state-level project allocation processes would need to be aligned with national guidelines for mitigating environmental impacts of activities such as road construction for transportation of turbines, noise pollution, and sharing of project revenues among land owners.

    Integrating the variable and unpredictable resource into the grid requires back-up options that can be started up quickly whenever the wind dies down. Planning for these options would introduce extra costs into the power system. There is a need for appropriate mechanisms for utilities to procure these options, at the least price to the consumers of electricity. This should also include mechanisms for wind power purchase between the wind-rich and wind-deficit states. 

    We have been harnessing the wind's energy for hundreds of years. Today, the windmill's modern equivalent - a wind turbine - can use the wind's energy to generate electricity.