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Solar can lead the way

EM News Bureau ,  Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 13:53 Hrs  [IST]

For an energy-deficient but growing nation like India, it is important not only to create power-generation assets, but to ensure that they can operate in a sustainable manner. Sustainability is the key attribute that India needs to consciously honour in all its endeavours, especially those on the energy front. Power plants based on renewable sources are intrinsically sustainable.

There is absolutely no concern with regard to availability, cost or movement of fuel. Given the current hardship over operability of conventional power plants–coal, gas and even hydro– renewables assume greater significance. It makes more sense today than even before to walk that extra mile on the renewable energy road.

Over the past decade, India has come a long way in its power sector. More than the demonstrable physical progress, the true achievement has been a clearer understanding of the true problems plaguing the sector. At one point – not too distant in the past – “shortage in generating capacity” effectively circumscribed the country’s woes. Today, the situation is different. Though huge generating capacity has been created over the years, it cannot be operated due to fuel worries.

Transforming power plants into efficient generators of affordable electricity is today the key objective. Solar energy therefore has a high contextual relevance and a promising future. In just about three years, India has been able to install a laudable 1 GW of grid-connected capacity. The experience–right from rooftop installations to vast solar farms–has imparted keen insights to both developers and policy makers. Technology has helped in bringing down solar power tariffs drastically. It seems very tenable that solar power can be a sustainable activity even without government subsidy, in the foreseeable future.

While one should admit that since the solar power industry is new, the overall competence is limited. On the brighter side though, there are no debilitating “legacy problems” often seen in traditional sectors like thermal power. It is time for India to capitalize on this unconditioned mindset and aspire to develop an integrated value chain in the solar power industry, not just limiting its enterprise to setting up solar power plants.

The mandatory domestic content requirement seen in the second phase of the National Solar Mission offers a solid launching pad for domestic solar equipment manufacturers. There is much that the government could do at the policy level. Raw material for solar cells attracts a high duty, making the domestic finished product costlier than imports. This anomaly can be corrected by revising the duty structure. The Chinese onslaught could also be checked through appropriate policy measures. State utilities must be coerced to honour their renewable purchase obligations – errant utilities must be penalized.

Equipment manufacturers, developers and policymakers today have a shining opportunity to integrate the solar value chain and make solar energy technically and commercially sustainable. The sun has sustained life on Planet Earth for millions of years. Meeting the energy needs of human civilization is just a small part of its infinite capability.
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