What’s holding back India’s solar energy revolution?

The missing ‘P’ in public-private partnership in solar stands for ‘people’


Sadly, big corporate houses have made every effort to run people’s efforts towards total renewable energy into the ground. If they succeed, India will never be able to usher in the solar energy revolution. (Photo: Reuters)

Sunlight is available to everyone. Why should large corporations be the only ones to enjoy the spoils?

Dispensing with big, unmanageable, loss-generating, corruption-loaded centralised grids, the need of the hour is a renewable energy feed and decentralised energy systems, which can be generated where it is needed, under the control of the people who will use it. The question is, how can a common man earn for the energy produced by him?

Of the total installed 2,000 MW solar capacity, 1,500 MW has been installed by young entrepreneurs. They pooled in their resources which are giving good returns. This involved purchasing land directly from owners, constructing power evacuation systems themselves, and dealing with about seven government departments. They must be helped, not discouraged.

Germany is the leader in solar power generation, at 47,000 MW. The remarkable feature of Germany’s achievement is that the total generation capacity is in the hands of farmers, small and medium sized businesses, cooperatives, green investment funds and community-owned utilities. India should follow the German model, which offers numerous advantages, including the involvement of millions of citizens in the transition. It is vital that the fourth ‘P’—people—be factored into the development of large-scale renewable energy generation in India.

The fourth P includes small investors, landowners, young entrepreneurs, house-owners who want to install rooftop power plants, dedicated individuals, professionals, retired experts and civil society groups, NRIs, friends who can pool resources to this end, and even farmers who can lease their land for power plants and share the produce—electricity. Small and medium sized businesses, cooperatives, green investment funds and community-owned utilities can also participate.

Sadly, big corporate houses have made every effort to run people’s efforts towards total renewable energy into the ground. If they succeed, India will never be able to usher in the solar energy revolution. The government-set targets of 2,50,000 MW will remain an unfulfilled dream. Over 400 million people who are bereft of electricity will never get this facility in their mud houses.

PM Modi will understand the entire gambit of the renewable energy fiasco and will help the addition of the fourth P to this field. It is wrongly stated that the decentralised electrical grid, developed by solar and wind generators located in remote barren lands, do not work. Japan has done it—out there power generated in rural areas is utilised in and around the site, or it is fed into the existing LV system of 415 volt, 11 KV and 33 KV. Such an arrangement will help discoms in four ways.

* Stop import of power from EHV grid to LV grid during peak load hours, when the system frequency dips below 49 C/S;
* Reduce transmission losses in the developing stages of solar power plants;
* Bring in major funds required for developing the existing grid in steps and not one burst;
* No need to make a large EHV grid in advance to collect renewable power, which is costly and time-consuming. It can be rolled out on a need-be basis.

This is where the concept of solar power parks comes in, where many investors install power plants, sharing available resources. The scarce water for the plant too can be shared by building water storage tanks on premises.

The critics, most not technocrats, say that because solar PV and wind power are weather-dependent, considered unreliable and are intermittent power generators, they cannot replace base load capacity—the minimal volume of energy that must be available at all times. Everywhere in the world base load power plants are coal, gas and nuclear fuelled, which provide steady base load energy round the clock. But who says that renewable energy will ever replace base load plants?

An energy system based on renewable is different from the fundamental electrical engineering concept of base load, peak load and related frequency excursion controlling power plants. Hydro power plants control the grid frequency and coal/gas/nuclear plants maintain the base. Renewable energy plants swim between the two, provided there is sufficient sun and wind. It reduces the base load sharing of coal/gas/nuclear plants, thereby reducing pollution by reducing coal/gas burning quantity. It also helps save water of the hydro plant by sharing the peak demand of power.

In India, where people still can’t rely on electric supply, direct-to-consumer systems are particularly relevant. The beauty of operating on such a small scale means that the energy supply can be designed to suit the needs of the community it serves.

Meanwhile, smaller-scale investment—such as rooftop solar systems—too also can be made a success by introducing net metering, wherein the excess power produced by a rooftop goes to the grid for which the power producer will be remitted money.

The most difficult part of solar energy revolution economics is that discoms and transmission companies own and control power grid—both LV and HV. This grid is vast and very costly. Solar power has to go into this grid for further distribution to the ultimate consumer, there is no alternative. But solar power producers do not have their own grid nor can build it. And this is where the game of exploitation of the fourth P enters into the renewable energy scene.

Electrical energy cannot be stored, it has to be utilised as and when generated. But a give and take by discoms and power producers can solve this problem. The question is, who will implement what needs to be done? I hope we find the answer to this, and soon.

The author is ex-deputy chief engineer, RRVUN, and head technical, www.rayspowerinfra.com/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s