Chasing the sun


The government needs to go full throttle in pursuit of green energy
Article Date: 
Nov 26 2012, 2156

The solar mission of the government needs to pick up some energy, and do so real fast. For, the rate at which the nation’s citizenry and industry are yearning to go green is breath taking, which is very encouraging even if the numbers are not very significant. This paper reported on Monday about the Damodar Valley Corporation, a large government-owned multi-source power generator, planning a 1,000 mw solar power plant on top of its long water canal network. If this is a sign of the enthusiasm level, then all that the central government and state governments need to do is not only sit up and take note, but also actually get their feet dirty in turning such dreams into reality through frequent financial evaluation of solar power equipment, niftier implementation of subsidy grants and regular checks and thorough audit of subsidised projects in order to avoid any pilferage of subsidy. Over two years back, this paper had opined in an editorial at the time of the launch of the National Solar Mission (NSM) that at a time when governments and companies the world over were incentivising the production and use of renewable energies, the Indian government still looked very tentative. NSM has indeed moved forward over the past two years. Thanks to the tax incentives and other subsidies, the cost of solar power has come down dramatically. The solar mission section of the website of the new and renewable energy ministry is a goldmine of information for manufacturers of solar panels and equipment as well as end-users, and it is updated with the latest developments in this field. Yet, these are only baby steps. So far, till September 30, only 1,045 mw of solar power has been commissioned in the country. This does meet the 1,000 mw target set for the phase 1 period of 2010-13 under NSM, but that target itself was completely un-ambitious and even to meet the not-so-great 2022 NSM target of 22,000 mw, we will require far more strident steps and intensification of the government machinery to bring it to fruition. On yet another renewable energy front, wind power, the country has seen generation of a cumulative 18,200 mw, as per the data available with the new and renewable energy ministry as of September 30. Solar power has much bigger potential and its production can be grown exponentially, but only if the government puts its heart and soul to it. Uncertainty calls for higher speed for solutions and continued reliance on fossil fuel-driven energy generation is not only retrograde but dangerous too, especially for a growing economy such as ours. Available data suggest India’s solar power capacity, as a proportion of the global total, is less than 5 per cent. That, when seen in the context of the size of the country, the seventh largest in the world, and its potential -- the sun shines brightly on a majority of its geography all through the year -- would indicate how our energy strategy still remains so yesterday. Yet, what has really made all the difference and contributed significantly to the progress made so far is the enthusiasm of existing solar power generators and users. There is so much more of this out there to be tapped. The cost of conventional fossil fuel will keep rising while the cost of solar power can come down further with scale. Convergence is already being seen in some areas and more of it is inevitable. One of the biggest drawbacks of the government is its inability to spread awareness about the cost-benefit analysis quickly and comprehensively among industries as well as citizenry. This should have been the easiest and cheapest thing to do. But like most issues related to governance in India, the easiest things usually get relegated to the backburner. We may need to wait for a few more decades for the sun to shine on our solar capacity.

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