The solar way to 100% power access in India

The solar way to 100% power access in India

The solar  way to 100% power access in India

India, with an installed generating capacity of around 256 gigawatts (gW), is presently the world’s third largest producer of electricity. Despite this, the country’s demand for electric power outstrips supply and per capita consumption of electricity, is abysmally low. The International Energy Agency publication on World Energy Statistics 2013, places the country at the 110th position in ranking based on per-capita consumption of electricity.

Additionally, more than 300 million Indians have no access to electricity. For this situation to change dramatically, we have to adopt futuristic technology that will have a force multiplier effect.

A World Bank study, ‘Power for all: Electricity Access Challenge in India’ highlights the enormous impact of making electricity available to all. The potential value of the additional lighting can be as large as 11.5 per cent of a typical household’s monthly budget. If universal access is achieved, the improved lighting alone would result in $3.4 billion annual benefit, the report says.

Future belongs to renewables

Globally, the trend is to move away from fossil-fired power generation to renewable energy sources, in particular, solar.  On the generation side, the future is in distributed generation. Microgrid and smart grid technologies will dominate the transmission and distribution side. The country must develop renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind, and others.

According to the KPMG report, ‘Taxes and Incentives for Renewable Energy’, the worldwide solar PV capacity has expanded 53-fold since 2004. In comparison, wind capacity has grown 10-fold. In addition, the report highlights that renewable sources, excluding hydropower, contributed to almost 44 per cent of the new power capacity added in 2013 and around 6.5 million people worldwide now work directly or indirectly in the renewables sector.

The report highlights that “the growth in renewable energy is driven mainly by government incentives, which totaled $101 billion globally in 2012, up 11 percent over the previous year”.

Solar can transform India

India is blessed with sunlight for more than 300 days in a year and solar power plants once installed can continue to produce and deliver electricity over many years. Some companies have already taken that path. According to reports, Infosys plans to meet all its electricity needs from renewable resources by 2017-end. Wipro meets around 20 percent of its current energy needs from renewable sources. Brakes India has set up a solar power plant at its facility in Tamil Nadu that will annually generate over 14 million kWh of electricity.

Due to endemic power shortages, many in India depend on diesel generators (DGs) for back-up power. Solar panels mounted on rooftops can replace the use of DGs since they are almost 50 percent cheaper. Rooftop solar PV systems can be either grid-connected or standalone. In the former, the DC power generated from solar PV panels is converted to AC power using the power conditioning unit.

Power generated during daytime powers the captive loads and any excess can be fed to the grid. If the solar power generated is not sufficient, captive loads are served by drawing  from the grid. The beneficiary pays to the utility on net meter reading basis only. Depending upon the application, the rooftop solar power may also require battery backup.

Rooftop solar projects have distinct ownership arrangements:

Self-owned arrangement wherein rooftop owner also owns the PV system.
A third-party arrangement, where the developer owns the PV system and ties up with the rooftop owner.

India’s success would inspire others

Recently at the global investors meet and expo ‘Re-Invest 2015’ organised by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the government spelt out its plan to add 100 gW of solar power and 60 gW of wind power. To put those numbers in perspective, 1 gW provides power for 700,000 modern homes; 160 gW would power a sizeable portion of India’s energy needs. The conference received commitments from 200-plus global and domestic companies to set up 266 gW of renewable power over five years. Some believe that it is an audacious programme.

But the UN secretary general's special envoy for cities and climate change, Michael Bloomberg, nailed it when he said, “Imagine the signal it would send to the world if India were able to achieve its goal of bringing electricity to every household that lacks it, largely using clean solar power — at a fraction of the cost of the conventional grid. It would be a success story told — and copied — around the world.”

(The author is an independent industry analyst/columnist and automation consultant)

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