A seductive mirage
We at Auroville Consulting have closely followed the “crashing down” of solar prices as mentioned in the editorial, “Clouds over solar” (January 16-31, 2013), and would like to share a few observations.
In less than two years, the tariff for solar energy has dropped from Rs 16-19 per kWh to Rs 6.50-8 per kWh. We analysed the related tariffs and concluded that in most cases the calculations are based on unrealistic assumptions. Even the “levelised” cost of energy (LCOE) (the constant price per unit of energy that causes the investment to just break even) of a solar panel (Rs 8.75 per kWh) is based on unrealistic assumptions.
This cost, determined by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), is based on the following assumptions: capital cost of Rs 800 lakh per MW, and 100 per cent grid availability. The CERC model has a maintenance provision but it is inadequate to replace inverters (to be done every nine years). When we take realistic assumptions, LCOE per unit comes to Rs 13.41 for large-scale projects and Rs 17.23 for small-scale rooftop solar. In both cases, we have assumed 90 per cent grid availability and capital costs of Rs 0.95 lakh and Rs 1.20 lakh per kW, respectively.
Why do players participate in tariff bidding with these unrealistically low prices? An explanation could be that some players are keen to build a project portfolio almost at “any cost”. Secondly, some players obtain low cost and low quality equipment that will not last the proposed project life cycle. Thirdly, these players speculate on the land prices (they need to get two hectares for every MW) and not on the long-term performance of the solar plant.
So, in our view, these low prices are not “good news” but an unsustainable start-up of the solar power sector.
Toine Van Megen
Co-founder, Auroville Consulting
Forest produce was never meant to be a livelihood option in pre- and post-Independence era (‘Bamboo rising’, January 16-31, 2013). In colonial India, it was all about commercial exploitation and revenue and no rights were recognised for forest dwellers.
But the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 has changed the scene. It is proving to be the best weapon for the forest dwellers to restore their traditional rights over forests. FRA has opened the road to poverty eradication.
“Farmers are not casino players” (January 16-31, 2013), let’s tell this to our prime minister and food minister. I can visualise them passing the buck. And where will it stop? Obviously, at the farmer’s door.
We need to nail the technology obsession with seeds. The number of scientific delegations visiting India for bilateral arrangements need a tooth-comb examination as this is a new way of biopiracy under the garb of bio-prospecting where Indian Council of Agricultural Research and other central scientific institutions play willing hosts. Why did the prime minister tell the Indian agricultural scientists to get their research agenda from the farmers? Certainly, this was born out of the below par experience of the joint Indo-US agreement called Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture. Importantly, this was another agreement signed along with the nuclear agreement in 2005.
Time to participate
Political leaders are keeping the old feudal system intact (‘A year of leadership failure’, January 1-15, 2013). Power continues to remain concentrated in a few hands while the mechanism has changed, so what is the solution? It is time for a paradigm shift, to move from a representative democracy to participatory democracy.
The mainstream media does not have the time to highlight what is positive, constructive and healing for society. It stresses mostly what catches eyeballs, and nothing catches eyeballs faster than short, staccato, sinister portrayal of violence and sex.
Media must be trained to collectively wean viewers away from negative stories. Instead media organisations compete with each other to show more and more graphically enhanced visuals of crime and negative activities because apparently “that’s what viewers want”. This is a vicious cycle which increases crime.
Sun will shine
This refers to the write-up, “Look at the sun” (February 1-15, 2013). India has about 15 million grid-powered pumps and close to seven million pumps run on dirty diesel. However, only 7,500 solar pumps have been installed for agricultural use in the country. Grid-powered pumping systems have many disadvantages. Firstly, the demand for electricity is far more than the supply. Secondly, the government is struggling to give subsidy on the rising costs of generation, transmission and distribution losses.
The loss of revenue to the government is colossal. Thirdly, the costs and tariffs of electricity continue to rise. Above all, grid power is unreliable and of poor quality. In a coal-fired thermal power plant, 1 kWh of electrical energy generated translates to 11.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in a year. The power tariff for agriculture is free in some cases and minimal in other. Many of the motors used for irrigation are outdated and hence, inefficient. State government should give farmers subsidy to replace the existing pumps with modern ones.
Run for health
The write-up, “High BP, tobacco are top killers” (January 1-15, 2013), should be an eye opener for the people and the government to take required steps.
It is true that lack of physical activity and faulty diet account for high blood pressure which lead to heart diseases. The present lifestyle of eating junk food, irregular sleeping patterns, smoking and alcoholism are aggravating the problem. Worse, children are leading similar lives. They spend hours playing on computers, cell phones and restrict themselves to their rooms. To correct this, authorities will have to change the education system giving importance to games and other physical activities.
For checking malnutrition, government initiatives like midday meal scheme should be extended to cover breakfast. The authorities should consider schemes that could be extended through public health centres and health workers. The increasing use of tobacco is a big problem in the country. The best way to control it could be to tackle it at source, that is cultivating it only for medicinal purposes.
This refers to the write-up, “Himalayan destruction” (January 16-31, 2013). In the 1970s with reference to a query from Parliament, whether deforestation is affecting Shimla rainfall, the India Meteorological Department initiated a study. They found there is a reduction in rainfall with deforestation. Change in land use also impacts meteorological parameters, they found. There is a need to study such issues rather than restricting research to dams.
S Jeevananda Reddy