Why India Must Pay More Attention to Solar for Power Generation?

Published  November 19, 2021   0
Solar Power Generation

Developing countries like India have been facing an energy crisis for a very long time that can be countered impeccably by top-notch technologies and renewable energies like solar. The country has been equipped with huge potentials of solar energy with around 5000 trillion kWh per year energy and most of the areas receive 4-7 kWh per sq. m per day. Back in 2018, the government announced a renewable target of 175GW out of which 100GW would be met by solar towards the end of 2022. Interestingly, India’s overall power generation was only 10 percent from 2018-2019, but at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019 it was announced to escalate the target to 450GW as it has the potential to counter climate change.

It is an urgent need of the hour to fuel the transition to low-carbon technologies because the demand for India’s energy is increasing more than two-folds every year. Another interesting aspect is that solar installation costs less in India than coal excluding the subsidies. According to a survey by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy of India, the cost for installing rooftop solar stands USD 66 per megawatt-hour, while the cost in China is marginally higher at USD 68 per megawatt-hour which is why rooftop solar photovoltaics (RTSPV) technology like roof-mounted solar panels utilized in homes and other residential buildings is now the fastest deployable energy generation technology. India has a significant solar rooftop potential of 1.7 petawatt-hour per year, which is against the nation’s current electricity demand of 1.3 petawatt-hour per annum. The prospective for RTSPV is spread between 46 percent in Asia, 13 percent in Europe, and 20 percent in Northern America.

The solar industry has now entered into a new international era that has relied upon regulatory backs and subsidies for a very long time. It has now become much more economical due to reductions in solar panel prices and the rising innovation in technology. Several countries like China are now phasing out solar power, but its development is becoming more imperative with funding from global firms such as Goldman Sachs, GIC Pvt Ltd., and several other private-equity funds. International Energy Agency claims that from 1 percent it has grown to 9 percent at the end of 2020 and it will grow to 24 percent at the end of 2040 that will make solar the biggest contributor in the energy sector. Currently, 100 GW of renewable energy is installed in India out of which 45 GW is of solar energy. By 2030, it will reach 450 GW, which will contribute to 50 percent of total electricity generation and it will reduce approx. 1 bn unit in carbon emission.

Solar Target Capacity and Installations

Source: MNRE

Why India Now Must Pay More Attention to Solar Installations?

It is speculated that the share of India’s international energy demand by 2040 could be more than 11 percent thus, it is important to perk-up energy security and self-sufficiency in the production of power devoid of any ecological imbalance. The power demand escalation is putting more dependency on fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. Therefore, more production of coal and imports of oil will fall short of energy demand and severely impact the environment and economic costs. Augmenting the dependence on solar power and its expansion will help the country to boost its energy security when demand surges.

According to energy researchers at Environics Trust, not only India but the entire developed and developing countries should now consider solar as the main source of power. This is because natural resources like coal and oil are very precious and now its over-consumption is making it scarce. Countries like India claim to have ample resources of coal, but the governing authorities are not counting the environmental and social damage. It is not only creating problems on the surface of the earth but also disturbing the livelihoods in the surrounding areas.

On the other hand, there are severe water security challenges in the country and the shift in energy must be done on those sources that do not depend on water. Between 2007 to 2017 the depletion of groundwater level was about 61 percent and since 2012, the amount of rainfall has also been reduced due to global warming. The water problem poses a serious challenge for coal and hydroelectric power because the former depends on water for cooling and steam production, while the latter is very expensive to generate power and completely depends on water to run.

Even during the pandemic and lockdowns, solar power has been enlarged and managed to meet the required energy demands. During the first quarter of this year, production of coal reduced to 5 percent that produces 70 percent of the nation’s electricity. But, the authorities urged for a must-run order on all wind energy and solar ventures, which proves that their power cannot be reduced unless the grid stability is compromised. However, renewables accounted for roughly 23 percent while the rest was diversified across oil, nuclear power, hydropower, and diesel. This is when the government unleashed various tenders through auctions. The solar power costs were reduced to Rs 1.99 per unit in December 2020 during an auction of 500 MW projects capacity. It has opened the gates of offering solar-based power to lower-income citizens. These are the auctions that are instrumental in fuelling the transformation of India’s energy and unleashed innovative technologies in the energy sector that offered solutions to the long sporadic challenge linked with solar power.

And to reduce import reliance on China, India is increasing its solar modules and cell capacity because, in the last six years, 80 percent of imports were from China. Safeguard duties were extended on imports and authorities urged to unleash import duties on solar modules, cells, and inverters. After that, the domestic companies were given incentives to enter the solar business. In the last five years, the volume of solar power installations was about 32GW, which could be triple in another four years. Now, if the target is fulfilled it could meet all the electric capacity, which the Central Electricity Authority expects.

Loom Solar

Source: Loom Solar

The Major Challenges of Installing Solar Plants

It is a herculean task for India to fulfill the target of 100GW of solar power installations by the end of this year, but experts think that it might not be that complicated because out of the targeted 450GW of renewable energy, solar will contribute 280GW of power (60 percent). The potential is more due to the country’s topography and geographical location. The efficiency rate of installed solar PV panels is 22 percent because India utilizes crystalline silicon-based panels. Hence, new technologies like Perovskite crystal-coated panels are developed, which can offer the efficacies to 27 percent. Then, another unique technology is the floating solar panels like NTPC, Kayamkulam solar project (Capacity – 105MW), Omkareshwar Dam floating solar farm (Capacity – 600MW) which have the capability to provide 10 percent more power because of the cooling effect of the adjoining water.

There are two kinds of power plants; one is the large power plants at MW scale (Usually we call it solar parks) and the other one has Distributed Solar Power Plants which we install over the rooftop from 1 KW to 10000 KW. Amid all the potentials, both the plants have different sets of challenges.

Amod Anand, Director, and Co-founder at Loom Solar told CircuitDigest, “One of the biggest challenges for the large solar plants is easy access to availability of land on time. It requires large hectares of land, while many of them are still standing for clearances from disputes. Then, there is low cost capital involved and problems of getting on time payments from Discom companies. Additionally, there are also problems with the availability of raw materials in the domestic market as more than 50 percent of modules are imported from outside India. Moreover, the transmission line and distribution lines are not modern enough to carry high voltage electricity from one part of geography to another.

Anand also added that Distributed Solar Plants (Rooftop Solar) face other kinds of problems like solar awareness and its importance is a big challenge in India. People need proper education about the environmental impact caused by fossil fuel-based power and the government and private companies must come forward to launch initiatives that can educate people about the importance of solar. Loans and EMI options are not available to install rooftop solar panels and the cost of the product stands very expensive. As the industry is new, skilled manpower is not available for maintenance and innovation.

In spite of various schemes, manufacturers are mostly interested in export markets that make the modules and PV cells expensive thereby augmenting their profits. In fact, many companies in the countries have formed partnerships with the US and Europe that give more priorities to export, and thus, supplies fall short for the domestic market. Then, there is hardly any understanding and cooperation among the government and the industry for the technology to boost the sector. To fuel the growth of the industry and adoption of PVs, better development and training of human resources is also required. Most importantly, the involvement of numerous agencies like the electricity regulatory commission, SNA, MNRE, IREDA and the convolution of subsidy structure make the development of this sector thorny.

In the middle of various obstacles and constraints, the industry is now looking for more top-notch digital tools or technologies that can make them more productive. Technology is playing a pivotal role in making solar PVs more effective and also setting up a proper structure. When the demand will escalate, there will be a hurdle for storage. Supervision and administering via automation and IoT will craft the solar plants more pliable for unpredictable demand. Storage digitization and data analytics will also play a crucial role here.

Can Solar Beat Coal-based Power in India soon?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) of late, stated that by the end of 2040, solar energy will completely equal the share of coal in the country and that by 2030, India will defeat the European Union to become the globe’s largest energy consumer. As of now, solar only accounts for 4 percent of power generation, while coal has the lion’s share of 70 percent, but the picture will change soon as power experts expect that coal’s share will reduce from 44 percent to 34 percent in 2040 because of environmental impact, pollution, and scarcity. Between 2030 and 2040, it is also projected that wind and solar technologies will magnetize an investment of $35 billion.

The national energy plan of India does not allow for further construction of coal mines be it open cast or underground, but on the other hand back in June, India’s Prime Minister proclaimed to give license for another 40 new coal pits to private firms for commercial mining. Global Carbon Project highlighted that the average Indian’s utilization of energy is 10 times less than that of an average American person. Coal experts clearly said that with the soaring power demand, India is not in a position to completely replace coal with solar or other renewable sources because extraction of coal is still cheaper than installing top-notch solar panels. Although the share of renewables increased to 36 percent a fraction is being used because it lacks sophisticated storage and grid infrastructure to deal with the power fluctuations. This is the reason why IEA projected power generation from solar will only account for 11 percent by 2040 in spite of unleashing various schemes and investment opportunities.

In the last few months, some of the initiatives have been taken to boost manufacturing companies by offering PLI schemes worth Rs 4,500 crore, and also the entry of big players such as Reliance Energy, Jindal India, Coal India, and L&T is highly expected to boost this industry to achieve higher growth in next 10 years.

For faster growth, some more initiatives are required like there should be a stable policy for solar development for three to five years and low-cost and easy access of capital is also needed. Most importantly, the government should ensure that all solar developers should get payment on time from discom companies, which implies discom companies must be supported for their improvement in financial health. For New India, we must build modern transmission and distribution lines so one sun, one grid and one India dream can be fulfilled”, added Anand.