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Rooftop lag in solar power flop

India fails to reach even half of target, blame on Centre's policies

By Jayanta Basu in Calcutta
  • Published 22.05.17
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Calcutta, May 21: Faulty policies prevented India from achieving even half its solar energy target during the last fiscal year, experts say, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's projections of the country as a future global leader in the sector.

Many experts blame the lag on the government's exclusive focus on big-ticket solar plants at the expense of decentralised rooftop solar energy, which can involve even individual households but finds its subsidies withdrawn since 2014.

A report by the ministry of new and renewable energy says the country increased its capacity for solar energy production by about 5.5GW (gigawatt) between April 2016 and March 2017, against a target of 12GW.

India, whose total solar energy capacity is now about 12GW, has set itself a target of 100GW by 2022, which many consider "over-ambitious".

Overall, the country generated just 11.3GW of grid-connected renewable energy in the 2016-17 financial year, less than 70 per cent of its target of 16.7GW. The ministry report says that apart from wind power and waste-to-energy, India did poorly.

"Implementation of rooftop solar is taking place at a much slower pace and it seems unlikely that the government would achieve its 40GW target by 2022," a report by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry and credit rating agency Care Ratings, released at the National Solar Summit 2017, warned.

It advocated specific policy initiatives to support rooftop solar power generation, including incentives to attract investments.

India's total rooftop solar installation stood at 1.247GW on December 31 last year, which is just over 3 per cent of the targeted 40GW by 2022.

Last month, the Niti Aayog said that rooftop solar energy generation needed to be promoted "between residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors with a target of achieving 20GW capacity by 2019-20".

Harjeet Singh, a global climate change expert associated with Action Aid, said: "Although there has been improvement compared with earlier years, we are falling back on solar mainly because of failures in the solar rooftop sector."

He added: "This is an important sector as it does not require land, which otherwise is a problem while setting up large-scale solar plants."

An analysis by the US-based NGO, World Resource Institute, too has cited "slow progress on solar rooftop installations, poor transmissions and lack of access to finance".

Some experts also blame the coal lobby for the tardy growth of solar energy in coal-rich eastern India.

"Clearly, the coal lobby is pushing back solar energy growth in these states as coal is available there," said solar energy expert Santipada Gon Choudhury.

Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal have together installed hardly one per cent of their combined target of achieving a capacity to generate 12GW solar energy by 2022.

Bengal power minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, however, blamed the state's poor performance solely on the "Modi government's abolition of solar energy subsidies, including solar rooftop subsidies, from 2014".

To offset the lag during 2016-17, India will need to increase the rate of solar capacity additions to at least 18GW per year if it is to reach the 100GW goal in 2022.

Some experts, however, are optimistic. "India needs to look at its ambitious solar target but things have started to improve," Sanjay Vashisht of Climate Action Network of South Asia said.

"The price of solar energy has fallen below that of coal-based energy, and the future seems bright," added Chandra Bhushan, a climate expert from the Centre for Science and Environment.

India's overall renewable energy target for 2022 is 175GW, as mentioned in New Delhi's formal commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change during the Paris climate summit of 2015.