Thursday, 03 April 2014 09:38





To develop solar energy as an effective alternative source of power, the government of India, on 11 January 2010, launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), under the brand name "Solar India”. The main target of the Mission is to deploy 20,000 MW of grid connected solar power by 2022. Besides, JNNSM is also working on reducing the cost of solar power generation through aggressive R&D, development of critical raw materials indigenously, and formulation of large scale deployment goals.

JNNSM is a major initiative to promote ecologically sustainable growth and, at the same time, address the energy security challenges faced by India.

The infrastructure and technology cost to develop solar energy parks is very high at the moment, as compared to the power sources such as coal, and even oil. For solar energy to become one of the prime sources, it is important that rapid scale-up of capacity and technologies is achieved so that the cost can be driven-down towards parity with current sources of power. It is hoped that JNNSM will achieve parity with coal-based thermal plants by 2030.

The Mission is also encouraging use of number of off-grid solar applications, especially in the rural areas, which are already cost-effective.

Fortunately, India has a vast solar energy potential. Approximately 5,000 trillion kWh per year energy can be produced using solar power. However, the constraint is on availability of space to put the solar panels and development of effective storage. Besides, the monsoon period has its own disadvantage vis-a-vis solar power due to extended cloud cover in the monsoon months. To develop solar power resource the Indian scientists and engineers will need to (i) develop solar panels that can create more energy per sq meter, (ii) batteries that have higher capacity to store energy while occupying lesser space, and (iii) photo-voltaic cells that can produce energy even during the cloud cover. Theoretically, a small fraction of the total incident solar energy (if captured effectively) can meet the entire country’s power requirements.

Electricity generation using domestic coal is the cheapest source of electricity today. However, this will change in the future as coal availability is finite. Increasing demand for power will require coal to be imported and this will further increase the generation cost. On the other hand, development of hydro power is proving to be very detrimental to environment and is being discouraged. Dependence on diesel generation is too costly. Thus, the best energy resource left to meet effectively the demands of tomorrow is solar power. The situation, thus, demands urgent development of a solution that is both feasible and cost effective.

Objectives and Targets

The main objective of the JNNSM is to make India a global leader in solar energy. The first step in this direction is to set-up an enabling environment for solar technology penetration in the country. In the first phase of the Mission (up to 2013) the focus was on promotion of off-grid systems to provide electricity to areas which either do not have access to commercial energy grid or scope for capacity addition in the grid; capturing of the low-hanging options in solar thermal.

The second phase (2013-17) will see aggressive capacity building and more competitive solar energy penetration in the country. The target is to ramp up the grid-connected solar power generation capacity to 4000 MW by 2017, through the mandatory renewable purchase obligation by utilities backed with a preferential tariff.

The ambitious target of 20,000 MW or more solar power by 2022 will be dependent on the lessons learned from the first two phases, which if successful, will help to achieve grid-competitive solar power.

The Mission also promoted solar heating systems in the first two phases, which are already using proven technology and are commercially viable.

As a first step, solar heaters have been made mandatory in building bye-laws and by incorporating their use in the National Building Code. For certification and rating of manufacturers of solar thermal applications, an effective mechanism has been put in place. Local agencies and power utilities are facilitating promotion of the individual devices. A support mechanism has also been put in place for upgrading the technologies and manufacturing capacities.

A major key to success of solar power development lies in decentralized and off-grid applications. The remote and far-flung areas that have limited or no access to light and power can leap-frog the fossil fuel growth trajectory, and move straight to solar power. In any case, solar power is more cost effective in these areas as cost of existing grid penetration in these areas is already very high. The only deterrent is high-end initial cost. A government support mechanism to set-up such decentralized solar power applications becomes a must.

JNNSM is also working under the ongoing remote village electrification programme of MNRE to provide solar lighting systems to about 10,000 villages and hamlets. To enable indigenization as well as lowering of prices, the subsidy and the demand so generated is being leveraged through the scale effect.

To promote solar lights through market mode, for villages which are connected to grid, banks are being enabled to offer low cost credit.

In special category States, as well as remote and difficult areas like Ladakh region of J&K, Andamans and Lakshadweep islands, stand-alone rural solar power plants are being encouraged, as also promotion of other off-grid solar applications, including hybrid systems to meet power, heating and cooling energy requirements currently being met by use of diesel and other fossil fuels.

Schools are being encouraged to use solar energy to power their computer labs, as also other computers being used to assist in teaching.

Some areas where solar power is already being used successfully are: Running of Management Information System (MIS) for better management of forests in MP, powering milk chilling plants in Gujarat, empowering women Self Help Groups (SHGs) involved in tussar reeling in Jharkhand, and cold chain management for Primary Health Centres (PHCs).

A soft re-finance facility has been created through Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) for which Union government is providing budgetary support. NBFCs and Banks will, in turn, be re-financed by IREDA with the condition that loans to consumers be given at interest rate that is not more than 5 per cent.

The bulk of India’s solar PV cell industry is dependent on imports of the critical raw material and components. For India to become a leader in solar power generation it is important that not only high-quality manufacturing facilities are created, including for manufacture of critical silicon material. There is also a need to create low-cost, high quality manufacturing facilities. Urgent need is to develop manufacturing capacities for medium and high temperature applications. If supported well, both on policy and financial front, and backed by proper R&D, the SME sector of the country can become the backbone for manufacture of various components and systems for solar systems.

The Mission has also spelled out the domestic content requirement, under which developers must use Indian-manufactured solar cells and modules, to encourage development of indigenous technology that, in turn, will help in not only reducing the cost but also decrease dependence on foreign technology for this critical energy resource.

The Mission plans to remain technology neutral, allowing technological innovation and market conditions to determine technology winners. There is also a move to set up a Solar Research Council that will oversee the strategy, taking into account availability of research capabilities, resources, as also possibilities of international collaboration.

Under a major R&D project, focus is on reducing cost, improving efficiency, testing hybrid co-generation, lack of convenient and cost-effective storage, and constraints of variability and space-intensity.

The R&D strategy is dealing with five categories: i) Basic research having long term perspective for the development of innovative and new materials, processes and applications, ii) Applied research aimed at improvement of the existing processes, materials and the technology for enhanced performance, durability and cost competitiveness of the systems/devices, iii) Technology validation and demonstration projects aimed at field evaluation of different configurations including hybrids with conventional power systems for obtaining feedback on the performance, operation-ability and costs, iv) development of R&D infrastructure in PPP mode, and v) support for incubation and start ups.

Technology cannot develop and sustain without availability of well-trained human resource. JNNSM has planned an ambitious human resource development programme, across the skill-chain, to support the expanding solar energy programme, both for applied and R&D sectors. More than 1000 young scientists and engineers have been incentivized to get trained on different solar energy technologies.

To develop and design specialized courses in Solar Energy premier engineering colleges and IITs are being involved. Many of the leading engineering colleges are already teaching solar energy at graduation and post graduation level. Some IITs and Regional Engineering Colleges have also setup Centres for Energy studies.

There is also now available a government fellowship programme to train 100 selected engineers and scientists in Solar Energy in world class institutions.

A National Centre for Photo-voltaic Research and Education has been established at IIT, Mumbai. It is part of the efforts to develop the human resource and implementation of the technology.

Creating a policy and regulatory environment, which encourages large-scale investment of capital in solar energy applications, technical innovations and steps to lower the cost is among the main objectives of the Mission. In the long run, establishment of a sector-specific legal and regulatory framework for the development of solar power is envisaged. Work is also being done to embed the activities of the Mission within the existing framework of the Electricity Act 2003.

Taking in account the latest technology and cost concerns, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission has issued guidelines for fixing feed-in-tariff for purchase of Solar power. These will be revised on an annual basis. It has also been stipulated by the CERC that the Power Purchase Agreements between the utilities and the solar power promoters be for a minimum period of 25 years.

To encourage a rapid scale up, and to enable an early launch of "Solar India”, the Ministry of Power, the NTPC and the Central Electricity Authority are cooperating to bring a scheme that will simplify the off-take of solar power and minimize the financial burden on the government.

One major issue that needs to be sorted out is tariff and bundling of solar power with the existing grid. Ways and means have to be devised to ensure that solar power utilities get their due cost (which at present will be higher than the traditional power sources) as also get paid in time by the distribution companies. Without this mechanism in place not many investors will be willing to set up solar power plants.

One option being explored by the Mission is to bundle the solar power with cheaper un-allocated quota of the Central stations and sell this (bundled power) to State distribution utilities at the CERC regulated price. The gap between sale price of power and average cost of power can be brought down this way. However, for this to work, power will have to be purchased by an entity and re-sold to the State power distribution utilities.

To begin with, the Union Ministry of Power has designated NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Ltd. (NVVN), a wholly owned subsidiary of NTPC, which is engaged in the business of trading of power, as a nodal agency for entering into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with solar power developers to purchase solar power fed to 33 KV and above grid, in accordance with the tariff and PPA duration fixed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. In the first phase, this arrangement will be limited to a maximum anticipated capacity of 1000 MW.

The State utilities will be entitled to use the solar part of the bundled power for meeting their Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPO) under the Electricity Act, 2003.

Replacement of the conventional power and diesel-based power with rooftop solar PV and other small solar power plants, connected to LT/11 KV grid, is also being encourage by the Mission. A generation based incentive will be payable to the utility as per formula devised by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission.

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