Tapping the sun

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has finally launched the national solar mission after discussions at various levels of the government for years, drafting and redrafting of documents and revisions of plans. The initiative is part of the eight missions that make up the National Action Plan on Climate Change. It was scheduled for launch last year but considering the scope and scale of the plan the delay is not major. The plan is ambitious and aims to make the country a global leader in solar energy with an installed solar generation capacity of 20,000 mega watts by 2022, 1,00,000 mw by 2030 and 2,00,000 mw by 2050. A lot of effort will be required to achieve them. The present solar power output in the country is 500 mw. Even if the scheme is in mission mode and gets top priority, the technical and financial challenges may not be easy to overcome in a short period.

Harnessing solar energy is costly, and the 20,000 mw target calls for an investment of Rs 90,000 crore, much of it in the private sector. Indications are that the private sector may not come forward to make large investments in an area where the technology is still evolving and returns are not immediate. The power to be produced from solar energy with the presently available technology will be prohibitively costly. The higher the production, the higher the subsidy the government will have to bear. Consumers will also have to bear a share of the high cost. The government should proceed slowly to make the programme a success.

The country is endowed with an abundance of sunlight. What it receives in four minutes is enough to meet the power needs for an year. Development of technology should receive prime attention so that costs can be brought down. The major advantages of solar power are that it is clean and inexhaustible. The pressure to reduce carbon emissions must have been a consideration in double-speeding the mission. The vision of solar valleys as hubs of solar science, engineering and manufacturing is exciting. The idea of meeting the lighting, pumping of water and other needs of lakhs of villages with solar energy is also equally exciting. The mission is important for the country’s future. But it must be ensured that the modalities of the mission and the implementation do not weaken its purpose.

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