Renewables, Deserted?

The Indian government has a set a target for renewable energy: 10,000 megawatt by 2012. So far so good. Renewables can electrify the rural marginalised who cannot be connected to the national grid. But how will it meet this target? Especially, when it took 20 years to generate just 3,500 megawatt. Lian Chawii analyses the obstacles confronting renewable energy penetration in the country and searches the way out.

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Renewables, Deserted?

-- (Credit: Amit Shanker / CSE)we are always the first to start. Invariably the last to finish. This is also, possibly, the story of renewables in the country. Way back in 1980, the government created the commission on additional sources of energy. In September 1982, the department of non-conventional energy sources was set up, and then in July 1992, it grew into a full-fledged ministry of non-conventional energy sources (mnes). India is the only country in the world to have a dedicated ministry responsible for implementing a non-conventional energy trajectory in India. Yet 20 years later, India produces just 3 per cent of the total installed capacity from renewables.

The renewable energy sector has always been the stepchild of power. Investments in renewables have been a niggardly 0.4 per cent of the plan outlay in the Ninth Plan. The government might argue that total outlay of mnes increased from Rs 1,465 crore in the Eighth Plan to Rs 3,800 crore in the Ninth Plan. But this increase is tiny when compared with the investment needed or the subsidies doled out to conventional power. The losses of the state electricity boards (sebs) -- because of subsidies provided to agriculture, domestic and every other sector -- is projected to be an incredible Rs 38,836 crore by 2003. In other words, the five-year investment in the renewable sector is less than 10 per cent of the losses of the electricity boards in just one year.

The Union power ministry's blueprint for power development envisages doubling the present capacity by 2012 and ensuring 100 per cent electrification of villages by 2007. It plans to invest Rs 800,000 crore in the coal and hydel sector to meet this "conventional" energy target. And the 10 per cent renewable energy target would be met by deriving 6,000 mw from wind, 2,000 mw from biomass, including co-generation, and approximately 2,000 mw from small hydropower, according to A K Mangotra, joint secretary, mnes. "This would require an estimated us $12 billion, (Rs 57,600 crore), 90 per cent of which is expected to come from the private sector," adds Mangotra.

But this is easier said than done. There are more than 80,000 unelectrified villages in India today, 18,000 of which cannot be connected to the grid. The mnes aims to light up these remote villages by 2012 using solar photovoltaic cells and biomass gasifiers, small hydropower and hybrid systems.

Renewables hold the key to our energy needs in the future. Even the mnes acknowledges this. Renewables can generate up to 100,000 mw of power -- equivalent to our current power generation. What then is the problem in rapidly disseminating this technology? It is more than just lack of money or investment, say energy experts. They point out that the ministry does not even have a national policy on renewable energy. As a result, entrepreneurs bear the brunt of inconsistent state policies and bottlenecks imposed by cash-starved sebs.

"For any significant change to take place, the mnes will have to tighten its belt and chart out its priorities," says Santosh Mohan Dev, chairperson, parliamentary standing committee on energy. In its 2001 report, the standing committee noted, " mnes failed to undertake planning and coordination of non-conventional energy projects." It urged the ministry to take a more 'pro-active role', to generate interest in state governments.

Renewable energy can also become the source of power for the rural marginalised in India. But the government sees this energy as the last resort for the low end users. There is no doubt that high cost and ultra-modern renewable technologies can be disseminated in the poorest, most marginalised, remote areas of India. But how our "fossilised" bureaucracies will do this, is yet another matter. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the Indian government to keep its commitments.The Indian government has a set a target for renewable energy: 10,000 megawatt by 2012. So far so good. Renewables can electrify the rural marginalised who cannot be connected to the national grid. But how will it meet this target? Especially, when it took 20 years to generate just 3,500 megawatt. Lian Chawii analyses the obstacles confronting renewable energy penetration in the country and searches the way out.

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