India

Rural India to Get Solar Too

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week I wrote about India’s ambitious plans for solar development. The country seems ready to mobilize its growing industrial prowess to show the world that it can accomplish the leap to clean energy without sacrificing its dynamic economic growth rate. The new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced ambitious goals for massive centralized solar plants that could, if completed, catapult India to the forefront of the solar horse race.

Considering India’s very large rural population, many of which are still without reliable power, this raises the question that has been emerging as renewables continue their broad development across the globe. Will the renewable revolution take place in a centralized manner, as plug-in substitutes for the coal and natural gas plants of today, or will they usher in a total new paradigm of decentralized generation that will leapfrog today’s distribution infrastructure, much as the cell phone revolution has done in the communications sphere across Asia and Africa?

The answer is clearly some of each, at least in the near term. But as things shake out over time, which paradigm will dominate?

Aside from India, Japan also seems to be following a large scale centralized solar development plan, in their case, as a replacement for the nuclear path that they had intended to follow up until the Fukushima disaster. Three quarters of their new solar installations, comprising some 10 gigawatts, has been in the form of large scale projects.

But, that is only one part of the solar story. In India, for example, there is another path being blazed by, among others, the Rockefeller Foundation, CSE India, and the Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency. The Rockefeller Foundation has committed $75 million to its Smart Power for India initiative. The initiative will focus on promoting sustainable business models for renewable power generation with an eye towards spurring economic development among India’s poor, underserved rural population.

India’s Solar Ambitions Could Put It in the Lead

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week, we wrote about the Lima conference and some of the challenges that were faced there. Among these were the fact that certain developing countries were reluctant to make commitments that they felt would adversely impact their economic growth. One of these was India. Indeed, India was heavily pushing for, and successfully achieved, some revisions to the terms of the agreement that included the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

This, says Indian Environmental Minister Prakash Javadekar. "gives enough space for the developing world to grow and take appropriate nationally determined steps.”

This bottoms-up approach is a departure from the original top-down target setting mechanism. It leaves unanswered the question of the total carbon reduction, in essence trusting that what the developing countries say is the best they can do, will be good enough.

There is some reassurance on that note, with some rather bullish announcements regarding India’s solar initiative. The program was first introduced in 2010 with a target of 20GW by 2022. The announcement was met with skepticism; indeed, in the first years, performance has lagged expectations with only a little over 3 GW installed as of this past March, about 85% of which is grid-connected. However, things seem ready to take off after the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and the decision not to impose tariffs on the import of American and Chinese solar panels.

Mercom Capital is now estimating additional installations of 1.8GW for the year 2015.  Says Mercom CEO, Raj Prabhu, “The Indian solar industry is visibly upbeat since the elections and especially after getting past the anti-dumping case.” Also contributing to the optimism are “recent cancellations of coal mining licenses by the Supreme Court amid rising coal imports and increasing costs, and continuing power shortages.”

To date, most of the progress has been state driven. Gujarat is in the lead with the highest installed capacity 916.4MW, followed by Rajasthan 734.1MW. Those two states with their incentive programs, account for roughly half the national total.

Now the Central Government is stepping, with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) announcing their own interim goal of 15 GW by 2019. This will be achieved with a series of huge utility scale 500MW to 1 GW solar parks. They also announced 12 locations in seven states where additional “ultra-mega solar projects” could be built. These alone could account for 20 GW.

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