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Rajasthan November 9,2013: The Government recently announced an ambitious plan to produce more electricity from renewable sources as a part of its target to add 10 Giga watts of solar energy by 2017 and 20 Giga watts by 2022. The steps being taken in this direction include setting up of an ultra-mega green Solar Power Project in Rajasthan near Sambhar Lake. The project will be the first of this scale in the world and will thus turn to be a model for future projects.

With the completion of the first phase of Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission by surpassing the target, the country is set to embark on its second phase. In the first phase 1685 MW of solar energy was generated against the target of 1100 MW. In the second phase, areas for focus have been identified in Rajasthan, Kargil and Ladakh.

Generation of solar energy has come a long way since we embarked on the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar mission in 2010. Today, we generate 1.8 GW of electricity from solar energy which is going to be multiplied in the years to come.

Despite this, solar energy forms but only a small fraction of power generation in the country. In fact the entire sector of renewable energy, which includes small hydro- electric projects, contributes only 12 % to the national power kitty; about 17% comes from hydro- power and about 2% from nuclear power. The bulk 70% comes from coal and gas based plants.

Sixty-five percent of power from renewable sources comes from wind energy. Biomass accounts for 14%, small hydro- power projects contribute 13% and solar energy 5%. Other sources contribute about 3%.

This imbalance needs to be corrected on many counts, on top being the environmental concerns. When the world is seriously concerned about global warming, non-conventional sources of energy need to be exploited to the maximum extent. And that is precisely what India is trying to do. Besides, the country imports 70 % of oil which is a big drain on its foreign exchange reserves.

The total installed capacity of power generation in the country now stands at just over 223 GW, far less than the requirement. The demand for power is estimated to increase by 16 GW a year at least until 2020.

In this situation, every source of energy needs to be tapped to meet the needs of a growing economy. The 12th plan provides for increasing the capacity generation by 72 GW in thermal sector, 11 GW in hydro sector and over 5 GW in nuclear sector.

In physical terms renewable sources of energy contribute 29 GW of electricity. The country is set to double this generation to 55 GW by 2017. Solar energy generation alone will increase to 20 GW during this period under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar mission.

Even though India has less than global average of wind speed, wind energy has been the most successful renewable source of energy in the country. Bulk of it comes from just five states, with Tamil Nadu as the leader. An encouraging factor is that off shore wind energy is becoming cost competitive with the energy generated from fossil fuels. It therefore becomes an attractive option for electricity generation.

Biomass is another area which holds a good promise. With over 60 % of India’s population dependent on agriculture, the area throws up opportunities for power generation. No wonder major projects in this field are coming up in different states particularly in Punjab. The estimated power generation capacity in this area is put at 18000 MW. In Britain and some other European countries too, coal-fired plants are converting to bio mass. Proper exploitation of this field needs huge investments for building storage capacity and plants, the way countries like Finland and Sweden have done. In Finland 20 % of power generation and in Sweden 16% of power supply come from biomass. With about 200 tons of agricultural waste going unused in India, the potential of harnessing this area is substantial.

Though per capita greenhouse gas emissions in India are very low, it has added about 2000 clean power projects in the last decade or so. The number of greenhouse buildings where solar and wind energy mechanisms and water harvesting etc. are in place has reached 2204. The number is planned to reach 1 lakh mark-an ambitious target indeed- by 2025.

The Asian Development Bank has just announced that it will provide $500 million to build a power transmission system to carry clean electricity from wind and solar power projects in Rajasthan to the state and the National grid. Since setting up of transmission lines to evacuate power from the generating stations is a massive challenge, it will go a long way in dealing with the problem.

Today, India is in a position to help other countries also. It has offered line of credit and expertise to Cuba to develop renewable energy projects to enable it to reduce its dependence on oil imports. NTPC is exporting 250 MW of electricity to Bangladesh at a fixed tariff. India has also invested in power projects in Bhutan.

In short, keeping in view the challenges of power shortage and increasing demand in developing countries and environmental challenges across the world, India as also the rest of the world, needs to pay adequate attention to power generation through non- conventional sources. According to one estimate India has the potential to generate 150 GW of power through renewable sources alone- thanks to plenty of sunshine for most part of the year and a good wind velocity in many parts of the country. But it needs huge investment to realise it. The rich countries must come forward to help developing nations to promote clean power generation. India on its part is well on the march.-Ashok Handoo

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