SPECIAL: MNRE lays out new renewables road-map; issues stark warning

After getting the ambitious grid-connected solar project off to a good start, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is about to unveil part II of the renewables thrust — the distributed projects.

The ministry also painted a gloomy and dismal picture of India’s energy-less future if radical switches are not made immediately.

Grid connected projects are those like wind and solar farms, big bio-gas plans and dams while distributed projects are small installations typically meant to supply power to just one or a few local households directly instead of feeding it to the grid.

While the primary thrust area would also be solar in this segment, bio-gas and rice-husk plants would also play a part, the Ministry has said in its new ‘Vision and Strategy’ paper. The Ministry, headed by former Jammu-Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has come in for much praise at the way it has got the grid-connected segment of the Solar Mission off to a good start.

“Ministry would like to step up renewable energy decentralized applications to save a billion litre of diesel and furnace oil and kerosene annually after 5 years,” the paper says, adding that telecom towers and industrial power generation will be the initial focus areas.

It estimated that companies are generating around 25,000 to 35,000 megawatts of power through diesel generators due to unreliable or unavailable supply of power through the power grid. In comparison, India has a total grid-connected power generation capacity of 150,000 megawatts.

Estimates have put the proportion of power produced by diesel at 50% in the telecom tower sector while many private companies, including IT firms, run mega diesel generators due to intermittent supply of power through the grid.

Besides solar, the government would also continue to finance the construction of biogas plants and innovative ‘rice husk’ gasification project.

50 rice husk based gasifier systems are providing electricity for lighting and other electricity needs in almost 150 villages and hamlets in Bihar. The number of villages will be raised to 10,000 villages out of India’s total of 600,000 villages.

It would also add 2 million more family-size bio-gas plants to the existing 4.27 million over the next 12 years, though the total ‘potential’ is for 12 million, it said.

It would also set up small grid-connected ‘augmentation’ plants to improve the voltage of India’s wide-spread power grid, in addition to the grid-independent projects.

Already the National Thermal Power Corp (NTPC) subsidiary NVVN issued request for selection of new solar grid-connected power projects of 620 megawatt (MW) capacity.

The process saw 450 companies put in applications, offering to set up a total of 5,000 megawatt of capacity, forcing the agency to go in for a second round of discount-bidding against the inital tariff of Rs 17.6 per unit (kWh).

In addition, it said, project developers for 100 MW capacity of grid-connected solar projects of 100 kW to 2 MW capacities each have also been selected. Under the solar mission, nearly 1,300 megawatt of solar power generation capacity is supposed to come up by March 2013.

“It is expected that 150-200 MW of solar power will be installed in the country by Dec 2011,” the vision document said. India’s current solar power generation capacity is less than 20 MW.

The ministry said non-conventional sources are the only way forward for meeting India’s surging demand for power, fueled by a galloping economy.

“In the last six decades, India’s energy use has increased 16 times and the installed electricity capacity by 84 times. If it is to grow at 8-9% a year, during the next 25 years, it would imply quadrupling of its energy needs over 2003-04 levels with a six-fold increase in the requirement of electricity and a quadrupling in the requirement of crude oil,” the ministry said.

India, which depends on fossil fuel for nearly 80% of its power, is already facing the prospect of running out of dollars to pay for the exploding oil bill — thanks to both rising prices as well as consumption which rises 15% a year. Nearly a third of its goods imports are oil.

An average Indian consumes only around 540 kg of oil-equivalent fossil fuel a year, a fraction of what the average Chinese (1600 kg per year in 2008) and the average American (7,500 kg per year) consume.

Yet, despite such an early stage of growth of conventional energy, it is already facing huge logistic problems in the conventional sector, the ministry pointed out.

“Mining and import of coal are both facing problems, especially for the huge quantities required.
Logistics and transport issues are also emerging.

“Moreover, at projected usage levels, questions are also raised about the period India’s extractable coal reserves could last,” it pointed out.

In addition, global environmental issues, such as climate change, also make unconventional energy unviable for a country as large as India, it pointed out. As a result, India will almost certainly miss its targets for conventional power capacity build up.

India currently has a target of adding 78,700 MW of power capacity for the 11th Plan (2007-12), 83000 MW for 12th Plan (2013-2018) and around 100,000 MW for 13th plan period (2019-24).

“Already the Eleventh Plan target for conventional power stands reduced from 78,700 MW to 62,374 MW and even this is unlikely to be reached. The achievement in first 3 years is only 22,302 MW as against the original target of 47,220 MW,” it pointed out.

Besides issues with finding coal, lLarge hydro projects are also facing problems related to environmental issues, project execution and building long transmission lines. The scene with aatural gas, another promising area, “does not create optimism,” it added.

“In spite of many policy and infrastructural initiatives, it appears unlikely that quantities required to achieve projected conventional power capacity will be available. The question is what would be the quantum of shortfall,” it said in a candour uncharacteristic of policy documents.

To control the wastage of power, primarily in the form of high heating and cooling costs, the MNRE is also planning to introduce a mandatory energy-efficiency certification program called
GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) all zones in India.

“Government of India has already decided that all its new buildings would henceforth mandatorily conform to 3* or 4* GRIHA ratings. A mission approach is being attempted in this area of sustainable habitats,” it said.

India already has a very successful energy rating system for home appliances.