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Teething problems shadow India solar power dreams

Teething problems shadow India solar power dreams

…But, despite an encouraging start, several hurdles remain, clouding the possibilities of a sunshine sector that is seen as crucial to India’s energy security plans, according to Debashish Majumdar, chairman and managing director of Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency.

“The Solar Mission has created tremendous interest in the solar field. There are project developers, manufacturers, contractors – they all want to get into this big market that has been created,” Majumdar told Reuters in a weekend interview.

“But there are roadblocks. The biggest problem is lack of data. If you set up a large hydro project, nobody would even think of shovelling the first spade of sand from the site unless there is 40 years of data.

“In the case of solar there is no primary data. There is a lot of secondary data (from meteorological offices, NASA satellite studies). From all that you can do some sort of an analysis and come to a certain educated guess about what your generation is likely to be. What we don’t have is a correlation with the actual ground-level data.”

“That is going to make or break the project viability, especially because the project cost is very high,” he added.

“A whole lot of people have jumped into this taking this as the next big business opportunity in the country and they have jumped into this without any knowledge,” Majumdar said.

“They are floundering around trying to find out which is the best thing they should do, where is the knowledge base, who are the experts, who is the consultant, who can give an accurate picture of what the issues are.

Such handicaps also come in the way of choosing the right technology, he said, a choice that has huge impact on project costs and the push to bring down the price of solar power.

 While these are early days and solar’s steep costs, much like that of nuclear power, are a deterrent, government policy seems to be on the right track, Majumdar said.

“What time will tell us is whether these policies are right, whether the assumptions behind these policies are good enough to make it work,” he said.

“So why are we doing solar when the costs are so high? Because there is reasonable hope that costs are coming down and coming down quite dramatically,” Majumdar said.

“Therefore, we get our feet wet today so that we are there when this thing really becomes the mainstay. But mainstay, when I use that word, will happen maybe many decades later but it is a process we need to go through today.”

These are interesting observations by Mr. Majumdar of IREDA as they were the first to give out the solar projects under the RPGSSP scheme which has come under a lot of criticism for the manner in which developers have been shortlisted. On the other hand, the project developers under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission were selected under the reverse bidding which might have resulted in almost “unviable” tariffs in some cases, but has been one of the most transparent of processes.

Further, the non availability of data or the availability of data as the case may be was a factor that developers knew at the time of bidding and the first stage is meant to be a learning stage.

What is also interesting is that in spite of high tariffs for  projects being implemented under IREDA as a nodal agency, there has not been much progress in them and it seems like the quick buck that he talks about is pertinent to the smaller developers than those under the National Solar Mission bidding. It is rather obvious given the conditions in the PPA in the national solar mission bidding and the the tariffs quoted makes it clear that there is no quick money there.

The observation with regards to developers floundering and more so, those under the IREDA scheme even after repeated extensions is an accurate observation.

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