India’s central government has drafted a long-term national plan for ramping up solar-generation capacity that Greenpeace is already touting as “the most ambitious solar plan that any country has laid out so far.” A draft of the so-called National Solar Mission plan reportedly calls for 20,000 megawatts of capacity to be installed by 2020, rising to tenfold that figure by mid-century — at a total cost of $19 billion to $23 billion.
According to an excellent summary on the blog Green Inc., one encouraging factor is where the money will come from: Increased taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel (both currently subsidized). To stimulate demand for the new solar output, on the other hand, feed-in tariffs and purchasing obligations for power authorities are also in the plan.
Predictably, another central factor in the plan is India’s plan to build up its manufacturing capacity for photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules. This anachronistic “do it yourself” attitude in a world dominated by trade is at first glance a bit disappointing; 21st Century Power has bemoaned in past posts the massive waste of potential synergies between neighboring China (which has massive excess PV manufacturing capacity) and India in the area of solar power. However, one bright spot in this plan is that India doesn’t plan to do it all by itself: The plan also calls for reduced tariffs on imported equipment.
A few comments:
- All the intentions declared here are excellent, but the key will be in execution. In the areas of green energy and environmental policy, the Indian state has many chefs in the kitchen, creating risks of poor ownership and accountability for results. Unless a single person or body is empowered to manage it and maintain a high degree of discipline over time, such a huge and ambitious program may falter or lose momentum too soon. Someone must have the authority to get the MNRE, IREDA, the Ministry of Power, MEF, the Ministry of Science and Technology as well as all finance departments in line and working together, for example.
- At this point, it’s not clear whether the National Solar Mission will also mandate a Smart Grid. The country’s delapidated transmission network isn’t really adapted for distributed generation, so without investment to modernize the power grid, talk of feed-in tariffs and purchasing obligations may be empty. (See past posts on this topic here.)
- It’s also not clear to what degree the Plan commits India to distributed generation. The draft reportedly envisages solar farms on the undeveloped “safety buffer” land surrounding nuclear plants and a multitude rooftop solar farms averaging 3 kilowatts in scale. This may be missing an important opportunity for rural off-grid micro generation in a country where, according to a newly published paper by the global PV industry association, SEMI PV Group, a whopping 450 million people still rely on (largely imported) kerosene for their domestic lighting needs. The paper, quoted here by the blog Solar Feeds, points to Indian case studies showing that Solar Home Systems that provide for all lighting needs can pay for themselves within 5 years, given sufficient microcredit to cover the up-front costs of just USD285 per home.
- Finally, given the history of competition and one-upmanship between India and China, 21CP wouldn’t be surprised to see Beijing likewise unveil a big plan for solar and/or other renewables in the months ahead. China won’t be keen to be upstaged.
Even if the two Asian giants aren’t working collaboratively, what’s clear is that strong initiatives like these on shifting to renewable energy sources will give them additional negotiating leverage in the upcoming December round of negotiations on global climate change. Western industrialized nations may not succeed in getting New Delhi and Beijing to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as they’d like, but muscular efforts to switch to renewables could certainly reinforce the latter’s case.
(Image courtesy of Greenpeace)