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Time to Tap Solar Power on a Priority Basis in India

According to reports, India is slowly building upon its installed solar power capacity, thanks to the comprehensive and ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), state solar policies and relatively increased enforcement of the Renewable Purchase Obligation. The country added almost 950 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity between April 2013 and March 2014. However, there are clear indicators that the solar energy sector is beset with several problems that need to be sorted out to allow it to expand to its potential. The JNNSM, set up in 2010, has largely failed to supercharge the sector. Its first phase aimed at creating 1,100MW of new capacity. So far only 252MW has been added. The second phase that began recently a year after schedule is yet to get going.

Fortunately, while the Centre’s solar mission struggles to gather momentum, schemes launched by some states that offer cost-free land and tempting tax breaks have done better. Of over 2,208MW solar capacity installed so far, 1,540MW has come up under states’ schemes. Gujarat alone accounts for nearly 70 per cent of such solar capacity. Clearly, the solar mission needs to learn some lessons from the states. Acquiring land is understandably a major constraint for this land-intensive sector. Equipment procurement is marred by trade disputes between domestic and foreign suppliers and frequent revisions in the mission’s guidelines in this respect. In many places, cumbersome official approvals are required even for micro-units, which the government need not regulate.

Unless these issues are addressed, much of the solar energy sector’s enormous potential will remain untapped.  The BJP’s election manifesto has promised a solar power revolution, building on the model successfully implemented in Gujarat, which was the first state to announce incentives for solar projects in 2009, a year before UPA-2 launched JNNSM. If voted to form the next government, it should address these issues on priority basis.

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