Solar power target tough

The government’s plan to raise the country’s solar power generation capacity to 1,00,000 MW (100 GW) in seven years is seen as too ambitious. This means a five-fold increase from the target for 2022 set by the UPA government, which had itself been considered difficult to achieve. But some assumptions and situations have changed in the recent past, which might warrant the setting of a higher target. The plan now is to generate 40 GW through rooftop panels and 60 GW through large and medium solar power projects connected to the grid. In fact, the target for the entire green energy sector is being raised with the government giving greater priority to the wind and biogas sources, apart from solar energy, than to conventional sources. The target for wind power is 60 GW. The programme to move away from fossil fuels might also strengthen the country’s negotiating position at the UN climate change conference in Paris this year.

India is richly endowed with sunlight and has very high solar power potential. But there are serious challenges to realising the potential, relating to technology, cost, investment and infrastructure. The latest target calls for an investment of Rs 6 lakh crore. The private sector has of late started showing interest in investment in solar projects. Last week’s announcement by the Japanese company Softbank to invest at least $ 20 billion in a joint venture to generate 20 GW of solar energy is a major initiative. Some other private companies have also made definite plans to invest in states like Rajasthan. Another favourable factor is that solar power technology is rapidly improving and as a result, costs are falling. Solar electricity at present costs about Rs 7-11 per unit, compared to Rs 2.7-3.3 per unit for power from conventional sources. But at the current pace of technological change, it is expected that there will be cost parity in the near future. That will give a big boost to the sector. A major problem is the availability of land, because solar projects are land intensive. But it is expected that greater attention to rooftop projects and those on barren land and deserts can address the land problem, which is very ticklish in the country.

India at present has only 3 GW of installed solar power capacity, which is one per cent of the world’s solar power output. China leads all others in solar power capacity. If the present programme is implemented effectively, it will offer a benign solution to the country’s power problem.

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