R&D must to cut solar energy cost

The steady decline in the cost of solar power, the initiatives taken by India to promote it and the country’s plans to work with other countries to frame and implement policies that encourage its production and use might combine well to increase the availability of this safe and sustainable source of energy for the country and the world. The most important problem with tapping solar energy was its high cost, which made it almost unaffordable. But the recent successful bid of Rs 4.63 per kwh by a US-based leader of the solar power industry, SunEdison, for a 500 mw project in Andhra Pradesh has broken major ground. It has shown that solar energy is competitive with power produced from coal or other sources. Rs 5 is a benchmark, and the cha-nge in the solar energy profile can be appreciated only by the fact that the cost used to be around Rs 18 some time ago. Both technological innovations and management strategies have contributed to the lowering of costs.

India has a massive solar energy programme which aims to produce 1,00,000 mw of power by 2022. Huge investments are proposed for this. Solar power is now on a par with conventional power in cost, on the basis of the latest projections. But the solar tariffs may fall further. Some estimates put the tariffs at Rs 4.20 by 2020 and Rs 3.60 by 2030, cheaper than coal power. But the full benefits of cheaper solar power can be reaped by the country only if technological changes and cost reduction are achieved by indigenous research. This should receive greater support and encouragement both from the government and the private sector. The programme will also have to find solutions for many financial, management and infrastructural issues which pose some challenges now.  
In this context, it is appropriate that India has taken an active role by spearheading
a global solar alliance at the ongoing UN climate change conference in Paris. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the alliance this week in Paris. It envisages facilities to be set up in India for research and promotion and involvement of other countries
in the programme. The proposal, which aims to provide clean, affordable and renewable solar energy, has evoked the interest of many countries. There are over 100 countries which are favourably located to tap solar power. It is expected that the proposed
alliance will grow into a structured organisation in the coming months. Co-ordination of policies and actions within a common framework will benefit all of them.

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