States step up to the plate to deliver on solar target

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Barmer district in Rajasthan alone with its vast stretches of cheap, open land that receives sunlight throughout the year is sufficient to build solar projects that can beat the entire country’s solar power target many times over, but practical difficulties in evacuating power from remote areas to where it is needed highlight the need to develop solar power across the country, where it can be integrated with the power grid with greater ease.

In June 2015, India announced a target of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power production by 2022 , which includes 40GW of rooftop solar projects.

As of 31 March, India had 6,762 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected solar power projects. Of this, Rajasthan tops the list with around 1,269MW.

“Enough availability of land and at cheap prices are two major requirements for solar power to succeed. Rajasthan has both. India as a country too has enough wasteland available, but the problem is that they are typically in remote locations, which makes evacuation of power from those areas difficult,” said Vinay Rustagi, managing director at Bridge to India, a renewable energy consulting firm.

“Barmer, a district in Rajasthan, alone has enough land for installation of 1,000GW of solar power. But that is impractical. Thus, what is required is that solar projects are spread across length and breadth of the country to overcome transmission and distribution issues. Strengthening of transmission capacity and grid is a big requirement,” Rustagi added.

Solar power requires vast amounts of land but to make it a viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered plants, the land must be cheap. But generally, land closer to cities is a little expensive. Hence the need for suitable land to support India’s push for 100GW of solar power.

Pushpendra Singh, Rajasthan’s minister of state for energy, expressed confidence that the state government will not face any problem for land while going ahead with solar power projects.

“Rajasthan has both enough land and radiation, especially in districts like Barmer, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. One of the primary reasons behind Rajasthan being the best in solar power is that we have enough government land. In future, too, we don’t think we would face any land-related problem,” he said.

Experts also point out that land is a premium commodity and thus, India should look at multipurpose solar projects.

“We should look at developing structures above land wherein we could have some sort of industry and cultivation along with solar projects. No land should be used only for solar projects,” said Prafulla Pathak, secretary general of the Solar Energy Society of India.

Rakesh Kamal of Delhi-based environmental think tank Centre for Science and Environment said the way forward is to promote solar power near cities in a big way.

“I think we need to promote generation of solar power in cities or at locations closer to cities in a major way,” said Kamal, adding that large-scale production of solar power is important to bring down costs.

Kamal, however, emphasized that besides Rajasthan, other states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are also doing well on the solar power front.

“Rajasthan is best till now. But states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana are also doing well. It’s a good sign. But I would be happier if government focuses more on promoting solar power in cities. There also needs to be a legislation that forest or farm land are not used (for solar projects),” added Kamal.

Andhra Pradesh at present has 572.9MW of grid-connected solar power projects, while Telangana has 527.8MW, Tamil Nadu 1,061.8MW and Gujarat 1,119.1MW.

A Bridge to India report released in April highlighted that states such as Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh that are large power consumers have been relatively slow to grow in the solar market, while the southern states have taken the lead.

“Southern states have had the worst demand-supply deficit. They are going big on solar not just to fulfil RPO (Renewable Purchase Obligation) but to also bridge this demand and supply gap as these projects can be up and running in less than two years,” Rustagi added.