Govt eyes 10,000 solar, wind, and biomass projects in 5 years

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New Delhi: The central government, on Thursday, set a target to start at least 10,000 solar, wind and biomass-based power projects in five years, which will serve small groups of customers, especially in rural areas.

The target is part of the draft national policy on renewable energy-based micro and mini grids released by the Union ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE).

A mini grid includes a renewable energy power generator with a capacity of 10 KW and above, supplying electricity for residential, commercial, institutional or other users. Micro grids are similar, but will have capacity below 10 KW. The ministry has sought comments from all stakeholders by 20 June.

“The objective of the policy is to promote the deployment of micro and mini grids powered by renewable energy sources such as solar, biomass, pico hydro, wind in un-served and underserved parts of the country,” said the draft policy.

At an average capacity of 50 kW per project, the government expects these 10,000 units to create a total installed capacity of 500 MW of micro and mini grid projects.

The policy notes that a large number of rural homes still have no access to electricity and decentralized renewable energy solutions are a way to address challenges of reaching the last mile. “Each micro and mini grid project should be able to meet the basic needs of every household in vicinity, and also aspire to provide energy for services beyond lighting such as fan and mobile charging,” it added.

According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2015 report, India has 237 million people with no access to electricity.

The push for decentralized solutions is in addition to the focus on large scale renewable power projects like solar parks.

The policy also calls micro and mini grids a promising solution to the challenges of energy access in India. They help the local economy by meeting energy needs of residential and commercial activities and thereby support enterprise development, generate employment opportunities and raise incomes, it said.

“As micro and mini grids are mainstreamed, it will enable in meeting the goals of reducing dependency on fossil fuels, providing clean power to rural households, and meeting their aspirational needs. The ministry, therefore, plans to support its expansion on a large scale through its various ongoing programmes,” the policy added.

The ministry also believes “reducing costs and increasing efficiencies of renewable energy technologies” makes renewable energy based micro and mini grids a durable solution which would be able to provide cost-effective energy, accommodate future loads, and connect with grid and feed surplus power if needed.

India already has plans to achieve 175 GW of renewable power (both grid connected and off grid solutions) by 2022. Of this, 100 GW is planned from solar power alone. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had increased India’s solar power target from 20,000 MW to 100,000MW by 2022.

According to an expert, the government can learn a lot from several such projects already going on in the country.

“What the government is doing will definitely help in taking power to un-served areas of country. But it is not something that has not been tried. Right now, there are a lot of pilot projects of similar nature that are being carried out. What government is trying to do is make it a national policy. It can, however, definitely learn a lot from studies that have already been done on the subject,” said Rakesh Kamal, senior programme manager, climate change at the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based environmental think tank.