‘Surya’ has always been of immense significance as per Indian Vedic text, from being the controller of all nine planets to being promulgator of life on earth. Evidently, it’s been the Suryavanshis around which the story of the most popular hindu text, the Ramayana revolves. Even in the Harappan times we find the mention of Vinyasa yoga technique called Surya Namaskar that aims to draw energy and positivity from sunlight.
Our ancient saints would have never thought that the progeny would actually find the scientific way of mechanically doing that through photovoltaic cells. But we did that and India has been at the forefront of promoting and using this sun-derived energy. From setting up Badla Mega solar park in unlivable conditions of deserts of Jodhpur to resolving to meet 40% of its energy demand from solar energy by 2030, India is moving with the speed of light. Recently, in a report it turns out that India is the cheapest solar power producer in the whole of Asia-Pacific region. Amid all this, Modi-Macron bromance is all set to change the way the world thinks of solar energy through ISA (International Solar Alliance), which will soon reach 100 countries membership mark.
Recently, this alliance has partnered with University of Birmingham to promote the use of solar and solar-hybrid energy powered cold chains and cooling systems among farmers in ‘sun-rich’ countries. Cooling systems are typically energy intensive, use of solar power can not only improve energy efficiency but also help reduce the adverse impact of climate change, providing the opportunity to address Paris Agreement, the Montreal Protocol and SDGs simultaneously. I-SCI i.e. ISA’s Solar Cooling Initiative will help increase Indian farmers’ income and solve the agrarian crisis. Most of the farmers don’t get a fair price for their product as they have to sell their perishable produce to middlemen instead of storing it in cold storage and selling it at a favourable price in the market. This initiative will not only improve “field to fork” connectivity but also ensure stable income which will further reduce loan repayment defaults on the part of poor farmers dependent on a piece of 2-3 hectares and free them from the shackles of debt trap and misery of bonded labour. And in the case of multitudinous defaults, loan waivers remain the only recourse. So solar energy is something that suits the environment and pocket both.
But domestically the moves are not as strategic as they are globally. For instance, the Indian government imposed an additional safeguard duty on imports of solar cells to stimulate local production. In the summers of 2018, government pegged the duty to 25% for the first year which was subject to reduction of 5% in every six month for the next year. The result of this policy has been disappointing as the sector has seen no new investment while developers wait for this period of 2 years to end. Done in an attempt to protect domestic manufacturers against cheap Chinese and Malaysian cells, this decision received mixed reactions. Some believed that this will help in utilising the idle capacity of solar cell producer which they were unable to use due to a four-fold increase in cheap imports in merely 3 years. While others went hitting the desks, believing that this will have a pass-through effect and discourage consumers from switching to green energy sources. Also, the duty hike was rendered ineffective due to price crash of China-made solar cells by nearly 55%. Against the backlash, came a pacifier from the government’s end that they are expecting USD 80 billion in 2-3 years as India is all set to host the 3rd edition of Renewable Energy Investors’ meet and Expo on 30th October.
And the reason India needs to make calculated efforts in this direction is that it is our ambitious goal of 5 trillion economy which calls for a boost in the power sector. Power is important for India as annual growth of 8-9% is impossible without the industrial sector receiving a boost which further reinforces the need to invest in power sector. Renewable energy is not a reliable source yet. Currently, the power sector is at stress too and won’t be able to meet increased demand until the government enters as a provider. The Indian power sector has 3000 mw of stressed assets which can be used but only after assessing their future capacity because draining good money for bad money makes no sense.
As the existing infrastructure gets burdened, Railways and DMRC are taking bold steps. In July of this year the Ministry of Railways made an announcement that in the next 10 years, Indian Railways will be the world’s first green railways as it plans for 100% electrification of tracks, moving to biofuels and planting solar panels on its vacant land. DMRC opted for a 100% solar driven metro by 2021, not due to government pressure but just because it makes commercial sense to them. At the same time, we can’t ignore ISRO’s decision to partner with the U.S. National Space Society and China to harness solar energy via SPS. Also, it plans to launch the Aditya (Sanskrit for “sun”)-L1, a satellite designed to study the solar corona.
However, India’s sunny parade is threatened by the gathering clouds of largely untrodden rural areas. The government needs to focus on last-mile connectivity as creating a transmission mechanism in remote parts is a huge challenge. There is pressing need of mainstreaming rooftop solar as 40GW out of 100GW by 2022 has to come from them and the growth in their installation has been limited. The lack of customized financing options is at the core of the problems. Uniform plans don’t account for regional disparities in electricity tariffs, net metering rates, and financial settling mechanisms. Customers peg their calculations to tariff rates retrospectively to calculate net savings from RTS. If loan requests are treated equally ignoring tariffs then small residential customers are discouraged. So, global investors and domestic discoms (distribution companies) both are to be made to believe in India’s “solar story” just like its “yoga story” for the nation to achieve its goal so that monetary incentives and instinctive righteousness works in tandem.