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India: Solar as the Sustainable Energy Source? Bookmark and Share  
  Author Name : K Ramesh Babu Posted on : August-2-2009 Total Hits: 3592
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From just an alternative energy source to a sustainable development catalyst – Solar Energy in India has traveled a long race. Now the rulers have awakened after finding solar energy as a savior from all problems and the issues emanate from Global Warming.  


The current UPA regime under the vision of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is planning for long term implementation of solar energy equipments to produce energy for use at mass levels. According to the plan each household will be provided a rooftop solar pan to augment energy from the natural resource which is available abundantly; without creating side effects like environmental pollution and heating up of the mother earth through carbon emissions.   


At a recently concluded G-14 (former G-8) meeting India agreed before the big powers that it will reduce carbon emissions to the level stipulated by the 2020. Kyoto protocol envisages all signatories to abide by the clauses prescribed under the deal. India and China are the largest emerging markets that leave carbon emissions and they are liable for cutting down future outlets with the already seriously damaged Ozone layers, according to the arguments from the top industrialized economies.      


In terms of HDI, India and China lag far behind other developed markets. During the last fifty years, industrialized countries never implemented stringent measures to contain high level carbon emissions. In particular oil consumption, air conditioners, fridges and other electrical appliances consume heavy usages of power which come primarily out of thermal power stations. In turn thermal units emit large amount of carbon into the air causing a hole in the green cover of earth. Nuclear power came handy for such countries to produce mass goods and industrialized products. However, their cost is unbearable and maintenance is risk prone.  


Shifting the responsibilities which they have to owe rich countries are profited in two ways. One, they can reduce cost for damages caused. Secondly, new technologies like solar, wind and others including nuclear energy could be sold at higher profitable prices. By keeping the energy costs at higher levels developing/emerging markets could not become competitive and rich countries could continue their economic dominance for some more time.


Hence, the Indian Prime Minister drew a strategy to not to drop the growth momentum started by him since 1991. The Prime Minister’s strategy is already included in the current Five Year Plan (ending 2012). The draft plan reads: "The objectives of the National Solar Mission are to establish India as a global leader in solar energy through:

* 20,000 MW of installed solar generation capacity by 2020 and 100,000 MW by 2030; 200,000 MW by 2050

* Solar power cost reduction to achieve grid tariff parity by 2020

* Achieve parity with coal-based thermal power generation by 2030

* 4-5 GW of installed solar manufacturing capacity by 2017."


The plan envisions the development of solar energy in India in three phases.

"The objective in Phase I (2009-12) will be to achieve rapid scale up to drive down costs, to spur domestic manufacturing and to validate the technological and economic viability of different solar applications."

This will be done through promotion of commercial scale solar utility plants, mandated deployment of solar rooftop or on-site solar PV (photovoltaic) applications in government and public sector undertaking buildings, promotion of these applications in other commercial buildings, and mandating that at least five percent of power generating capacity being added every year will be through solar sources.

Vacant land in existing power plants will be used for this purpose, and anybody who produces solar power at home or office will be able to sell the excess back to the power distributor.

Solar PV panels will be promoted to charge invertors at homes and offices.

Phase II will run from 2012 to 2017 during which schemes which are found to work in Phase I will be scaled up.

Phase III, from 2017 to 2020, will see further scaling up with minimal or no subsidy. This envisages the installation of one million rooftop solar energy systems, plus solar lighting for 20 million households.


By implementing the objectives completely India could achieve reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by about 60 million tones per year. Additionally it can save 1.05 billion litres of diesel, a billion litres of kerosene and 350 million litres of fuel oil per year by 2020.


The cost of producing per unit of solar energy is about Rs 17/- as estimated leaving the energy source unaffordable. Comparing other conventional sources which are far less than Rs10/- per unit, the average solar energy losses are cost advantageous.


Research and Development is the only option to reduce the cost of production of solar energy. Even though there are success stories practically made by certain institutions in India, religious and educational institutions are running forefront in the race and stand out as examples for others to follow. Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah recently inaugurated the world’s largest solar steam system installed at Sri Sai Baba Sansthan, Shirdi. The solar system enables the Sansthan to cook food for 20,000 people a day, resulting in a huge annual savings of one lakh kg of LPG translating to nearly Rs.20,00,000 per year. The system has been installed within a record time of ten months. Another example is in an engineering college in Chennai which promotes solar energy at mass scale.


However, the plan for solar energy production comes with a huge subsidy of 82,000 crores in 30 years. There are counter arguments saying that the subsidy amount is grossly underestimated as the cost per unit of solar energy will come down towards from Rs 16.50 per hour to Rs 2.5 kw per hour in 20 years.


India is said to be seeking recovery of the cost for reduction of carbon emissions from rich countries since it can’t meet the cost itself. However, if the technology is upgraded and cost shared by the private sector then the dream for zero or near zero emission level is achievable.


Above all, public participation is necessary to make the task successful. The well proven PPP model can be applied in the case of solar energy as well. Finally, it is essential for India to evolve a viable energy resource in case of absence of coal and oil from the earth in the long run. It will be the energy security that we really need to defend our selves from external dominance.


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