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The New Wave Of Energy

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For India, energy security has never seemed more real, more urgent than now. Forty per cent of the country’s 1.2-billion populace is yet to have access to electricity. Even those getting grid supply suffer poor quality of power. Towns see power cuts more than half the day. The country’s energy deficit, according to the Central Electricity Authority, is 9.3 per cent. The peak shortage is nearly 11 per cent. And, of late, even power grids have started collapsing at will. 
 
The 12th Five-Year Plan envisions adding 80,000 MW. But will that be enough? A McKinsey report, ‘Powering India-The Road to 2017’, says India’s power demand will be as high as 335 GW by 2017. And coal, which makes up 57 per cent of India’s energy, is in short supply. In 2012 itself, there was a gap of 137 million tonne (mt) between the demand and supply of coal, up from 83 mt in 2011. Add to that the fact that a third of the world’s CO2 emissions come from coal.
 
The policymakers have turned to renewable energy sources to solve part of this puzzle. To this end, the government set up the Department of Non-Conventional Energy Sources back in 1982. This was morphed into an independent body in 1992. Later, in 2006, it was rechristened the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). The ministry now aims to have 15 per cent of the total electricity generated from renewable sources (excluding large hydro projects) by 2020.
 
Investors, too, are optimistic. For instance, India clocked the sharpest increase in renewable energy investment in 2011, up 62 per cent to $12.3 billion. Ernst & Young’s August 2012 Renewable Energy Attractiveness Index placed India as the fourth most attractive destination for investment in renewables. Foreign direct investment in renewables stood at about $1.5 billion  between April 2000 and March 2012.
 
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That said, progress has been quite uneven in India’s renewable sector. Renewable sources such as wind, solar, small hydro, waste-to-energy and biomass projects play only a peripheral role, supplementing only 12 per cent of the total energy generation of 207,004 MW. Thermal sources fuel 67 per cent. Wind, more mature of the lot, is dogged by grid balancing and incentive issues. The power grid has to be able to absorb, balance and manage the ups and downs in wind power generation when wind seasons come and go. Wind power producers and investors also seek clarity on incentives they receive. Power producers used to get Rs 0.50 per unit of electricity fed in to the grid for a period up to 10 years. But the centre is reviewing the policy now. “The uncertainty on whether you will qualify (to avail incentives) is discomforting,” says Rahul Shah, chief of business development for India business and renewables at Tata Power. 
 
The other option is solar, which is still too expensive. For instance, it costs Rs 10-12 per kWh for power generated from solar photovoltaic, while for solar thermal, it is Rs 9-11 per kWh. For coal-based power plants, the cost is about Rs 3 per kWh. But thankfully, solar tariffs — Rs 8.5 per unit now — are falling. While commercial and industrial units already pay up to Rs 9 per unit, resident users pay Rs 5-6 per unit. Analysts expect parity as early as 2016-17. But technology improvements, particularly in efficiency of solar panels, are some way off. Key areas within solar like concentrated solar thermal are yet to pick up largely because of low awareness. 
 
As for biomass, industry experts fear it is not scalable as agri-waste availability is fragmented. It also lacks policy support. Initially, the world took to the idea with much gusto. But interest among investors is waning. MNRE estimates India has a potential of at least 18,000 MW in biomass. Companies who still want to invest lament the lack of policy on pricing and availability. “That was why we have had to stall our 25 MW biomass project,” says Joy Saxena, executive director of strategy and planning at Kolkata-based Techno Electric & Engineering.
 
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But research and development in renewable energy is underdeveloped. While India does have the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, a government body set up in 1942, the industry has been slow to utilise the infrastructure, says Prodipto Ghosh, distinguished fellow at think tank Teri. “It seems they would rather buy Western technology than go through the hassle of developing their own.”
 
Overall, wind has performed the best; its installed capacity is 70 per cent of the country’s renewable energy pie. India is the world’s fifth largest wind player, behind China, the US, Germany and Spain. The wind power sector is maturing from being driven by tax benefits to serious independent power producers. But the current installed capacity is still one-fourth of the total commercially exploitable capacity and only 7.5 per cent of total electricity generation. There is also the capacity from old wind sites that is being overlooked. Repowering old wind pockets can tap 45,000 MW. With only 3-4 years to go before the country runs out of new sites, says Shah, it is imperative to frame a policy on repowering. Despite the concerns, many are bullish on renewables. Vivek Mehra, managing director at Aloe Private Equity, says wind power will continue to be the “darling” of investors. Solar too has many enthusiasts, given its easy availability. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, launched in January 2010, has given a fillip to the sector. It aims to add 20,000 MW by 2022.
 
States such as Gujarat — which houses Asia’s largest solar park with 600 MW capacity in Charanka — and Rajasthan have taken it up aggressively. Gujarat is even installing solar panels on the Narmada canal. And Tata Power, in a tie-up with Australian firm Sunengy, has come up with a prototype of a floating solar plant. A KPMG report, titled ‘The Rising Sun’ and released in September 2012, says solar power can meet about 7 per cent of India’s power demand by 2022; mitigate 2.6 per cent of its carbon emissions and 30 per cent of coal imports. The report also says solar has $110 billion worth of investment opportunities over the next decade.
 
The government is also keen on small hydro power (SHP) projects, where installed capacity increased from 1,909 MW in March 2006 to 3,300 MW in January 2012. That makes sense, given the fact that large-scale hydro projects, which supply 19 per cent of the country’s power, is besieged with land, rehabilitation, environment issues. Small hydro projects, on the other hand, are cleaner, competitive cost-wise and can meet demands of isolated, remote areas, believes Sabyasachi Majumdar, senior vice-president at rating agency ICRA. While the current installed capacity of SHPs accounts for 22 per cent of India’s total 15,000 MW potential, MNRE plans to increase this to 8,500 MW by 2021. But its biggest disadvantage is the fact that glaciers and river flows are susceptible to climate change.

Power Without Pollution
Are renewable energy sources the key? Or are there other alternatives? India is yet to estimate its shale gas reserves. Guesstimates range from 300 trillion cubic feet to 2,000 trillion cubic feet. But like fossil fuels, it is dirty. The US now faces intense domestic criticism over fracking — the extraction procedure for shale gas — and contamination of local water bodies. That takes one to nuclear energy. In India, nuclear plants already generate 4,780 MW and the government plans to increase this to 20,000 MW by 2020. But nuclear is a minefield. Disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima have shaken up people over potential catastrophes and the aftermath. There are mass protests in India as well. To top it off, nuclear is water intensive and the country is completely dependent on uranium imports and foreign technology to build plants.
 
India saw the sharpest increase in renewable energy investment in 2011, up 62 per cent to $12.3 billion

 
“In the next 15-20 years, it’s going to be coal,” says Girish Shirodkar of consultancy Strategic Decisions Group. But 50 years into the future, he says, it would be solar and nuclear energy. Countries such as the US and China are racing to make the best use of this potential. They lead in installed capacity of renewable energy — China, thanks to government incentives, and the US with its immense focus on R&D in cleantech. Germany, too, has clear and certain policies. Canada has MaRs — a public-private enterprise that coaches startups on innovative ideas to come into the market. Time for India to learn from such global best practices and move ahead. 
 
In the following pages, BW takes a look at issues within wind, solar and hydro power sectors in the country. We examine examples, such as Tamil Nadu’s wind energy efforts, while mapping the potential for rooftop models in India. We also track the case of Uttarakhand seeking a balance between power through large hydro and the impact on citizens. Read on.
 
yashodhara(dot)dasgupta(at)abp(dot)in
 
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 12-11-2012)


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