Solar power to cost less than conventional energy“The drop from Rs. 20 to Rs. 6 per unit from solar power in just 3 to 4 years has made all of us in India enthusiastic,” explains Prafulla Pathak, Secretary General, Solar Energy Society of IndiaSlowly yet steadily, solar power is strengthening its footprints. Prafulla Pathak discusses how renewable energy would strengthen the energy situation along with conventional energy.What potential does India have when it comes to renewable energy sector?There is huge potential of renewable energy such as solar, wind, biomass, etc. If we talk about the solar energy potential, about 5,000 trillion kWh per year energy is incident over India’s land area. The south, central and west parts of our country are prominent in receiving solar energy at 4-7 kWh per sq. metres per day. Solar energy — consisting of heat and light — can be converted into solar thermal and solar photovoltaics, respectively. If effectively harnessed provides huge scalability for solar in India.The distributed generation to provide power through solar is another big advantage as solar energy is scattered. The ability for rapid capacity addition with short lead time is another advantage.When it comes to rural electrification and meeting other energy needs for power and heating and cooling, solar energy has distinct advantages. Off-grid decentralised and low-temperature applications are beneficial for the large proportion of poor and energy un-served population in the country. Efforts are on to exploit the relatively abundant sources of energy available in the country.JNNSM has set target of deploying 20,000 MW of grid connected solar power by the year 2022. What steps should be taken to achieve the target?The Government of India has taken several steps to promote large-scale deployment of solar power across the country. However, lots of measures still need to be taken for achieving the targets set in the national solar mission. These include availability of sufficient funds for solar projects at concessional finance and on priority basis, policy measures for enforcement of RPO (Renewable Purchase Obligations), availability of credible long-term solar radiation data on ground, consistent, predictable and long-term regulatory environment, timely sanctions and permissions from various agencies due to a lack of single window clearance mechanism. Also, various states need to make sure that land banks and transmission infrastructure are available for timely, faster execution of projects.What measures are being taken to make solar energy more successful in India?The grid connected and high-capacity installations mainly supplying the power to the distribution networks is on one side, and distributed, off-grid generation of power through solar is on another side. These are two main streams in our case. The two have different objectives and entirely different situations. The first part is high-capacity investment and depends on need of distribution, and at the same time distribution utility is expecting a better, cheaper power. At the same time, scheduling of supply and achieving the same is a major problem here. The solar power availability is weather dependent, which is not fixed in any part of the world. Some changes every few hours are bound to be there as such predicting the perfect output is a thin line, and achieving the scheduling is a challenge to producers. The other, off-grid part is most suitable for the remote locations or rural areas. The demand of power from a remote village or rural habitat is not much but it is required too. The supply of conventional power to the rural location is not many times techno-economical viable if we consider the line losses and the revenue generation to the transmission or distribution utility. As such, when we have a distributed off-grid system which can generate power to run the three phase limited requirement applications of rural habitats, this off-grid or minigrid is advantageous.Generation of solar energy is costlier than conventional power. What steps should be taken to reduce the cost?Generation of solar energy was costlier than conventional power; the statement should read like this. The drop from Rs. 20 to Rs. 6 per unit from solar power in just 3 to 4 years has made all of us in India enthusiastic. The scaling is one factor which reduces production cost. This in turn reduces CAPEX and fixed cost which are the main contents while deriving the cost. Those steps are already in. Location of the power generation near the required distribution network or independent network for the limited habitats can reduce the power cost further. The cost of the power at generation end and distribution end has increased due to transmission network. The availability of low interest rate debt from the financial institution is the one which can reduce the cost further. The high efficiency modules at low cost are another possibility, which needs research. The day is not far when this statement will be rewritten like generation of energy from conventional is costlier than solar power as the cost of fuel, coal, gas, thermals generation and its logistic cost is going at new high.
The use of indigenous material of quality when it is available in suitable quantity must be given priority. The protection of local manufacturers is also necessary. If the producers outside our country are getting subsidies and special facilities by their governments which in turn results in relatively cheaper products by them, the competition is not on level-playing field. When can we see grid parity in Indian solar power sector?The grid parity is possible in near future. It may be after a year or two. It may be possible that the same may be achieved before that. The shortage of domestic coal, constraints on import of coal, and cost of gas may take the conventional power at the next height. Even the falling cost of rupee in the world market will have its effect. The variable cost had lead due to these developments. Thus, with lowering of the solar power generation cost due to reduction in fixed component and the rise in fixed and variable cost of conventional power, the grid parity is likely to be achieved in the next 3-4 years.What are the tariffs for solar power in India?The tariff for solar power is different in various states depending upon the solar policy of each state. However, for solar projects under the National Solar Mission, the tariff is fixed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC). It may be noted that for Phase-1, Batch-1 projects under JNNSM, the tariff was fixed at Rs. 17.95 per unit. But during the reverse bidding process for allocation of solar PV Projects, the various developers quoted much lower tariff and the average bid tariff was Rs. 12.16. Similarly, for projects under Phase 1, Batch 2, against CERC tariff of Rs. 15.39, the average bid tariff was Rs. 8.77. Recently tariff for solar projects in some states has been quoted as low as Rs. 6.50. You would see considerable lowering of tariff for solar energy during the last 3-4 years.Indian Government is considering imposing anti-dumping duties on imported solar photovoltaic modules? What is your take on the situation?The Government of India is considering imposing anti-dumping duties on imported solar cells and modules. SESI has been consistently of the view that manufacturing of all components required for solar PV and solar thermal projects should be encouraged in India. Even the National Solar Mission aims to make India a manufacturing hub for all components and parts required for solar power projects. The use of indigenous material of quality when it is available in suitable quantity must be given priority. The protection of local manufacturers is also necessary. If the producers outside our country are getting subsidies and special facilities by their governments which in turn results in relatively cheaper products by them, the competition is not on level-playing field. Such steps are necessary for encouraging solar industry in the country.