Green energy: Unrealistic targets

By setting up unrealistic targets, the green energy is bound to attract those who are keen to reap the windfall profits rather than generating power.

Recently the Minister of Power, Coal and Renewable Energy Piyush Goyal reassured the commitment of the Central government in achieving the target of 1,75,000 MW of green energy by 2022. “By evolving innovative ways of funding these projects and with attractive power purchase agreements” he is confident to reach this high target.

 As our neighbour China is struggling to cope with the smog and air pollution in cities like Beijing, it is heartening to know that our leaders are keen to charter climate friendly technology with emphasis on clean and renewable energy sources to fuel the engine of development. It is pro-active, and has potential of realising the dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to provide energy to millions of people who are deprived of electricity connection.

 The Centre aims to generate 1,00,000 MW of solar, 60,000 MW of wind power, 10,000 MW of biomass and 5,000 MW through installation of  small hydro power projects. To implement these targets, it is estimated that around Rs 2,50,000 crore would be required.

 Obviously, the investment costs are very high and while setting the targets, the government has not clarified the modalities for funding, where this is going to be generated. One option is to stake claim on the funds from Clean Development Mechanism through international funding. Second option is to raise internal finances through National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF). The finance minister has raised the clean energy cess on coal from Rs 100 to Rs 200 per tonne. The cess would generate Rs 30,000 crore annually to be used for setting up clean energy projects. However, NCEF is already sitting with Rs 17,000 crore and is unable to fund projects as it lacks mechanisms to implement the idea.

 The power purchase agreements to be evolved by the private investors in clean energy sectors may attract corporate funding. Nevertheless, other financial institutions like public and private sector banks need to play proactive role in providing venture capital to develop green projects.

 In addition to the financial resources, there is the problem of developing technical skills to set up and maintain these projects. It is estimated that this sector will generate employment opportunities for about two lakh skilled people. But we have no plans to develop these technical skills in the near future. Lack of technical skills is the main reason for failure of solar installations in the rural areas over the decades.

 A close analysis of the performance of solar power sector in India over the years indicates that we are nowhere near achieving the targets that were set by the solar missions. In 2010, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission had set the target of generating 20,000 MW connecting to the grid power by 2022. The present government has increased it to five fold with a promise of generating 1 lakh MW by the same time.
Wind mills, hydro projects

By the end of 2014, the country was able to generate a meagre of 3,000 MW of solar energy. Will it be possible or even feasible to add another 97,000 MW in the next eight years? In order to set up one 1,000 MW solar power plant will require 10,000 acres of contiguous land. In the dense populated regions of the country where are we going to find such land for captive solar power plants?

 Similarly, setting high target of wind mills and small hydro projects needs to be reviewed through existing experiences. There are confirmed reports of declining populations of rare bird species of Great Indian Bustards in desert national park, Rajasthan due to high number of windmills. Large number of wind mills in one locality might cause changes in the micro climate.

The destruction caused by the construction activities of small hydro in the tributaries of Ganga in Garhwal has led to the catastrophic Kedarnath floods.   A series of small hydro projects is the main cause for destruction of the remaining natural forests in Western Ghats. The performance of green energy projects needs to be assessed in the light of these ground level experiences and the targets need be set realistically.

 By setting up unrealistic targets, the green energy is bound to attract those who are keen to reap the windfall profits rather than generating power. The ongoing solar scam in Kerala is an indicator of how the green technology will be misused by the politicians. In Karnataka, the Surya Raitha scheme of providing solar irrigation pumps has already run into problems. The super fast enrollments of 295 farmers online in seven minutes have raised doubts about the foul play in implementing this innovative project.

The capital intensive green technology to connect the centralised grid power will be dominated by corporate and political nexus. Instead, the emphasis should be on the propagation of decentralised off grid green technologies that need minimal funding, controlled, and managed by the communities.

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