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Solar mission: Govt to turn 20,000 jobless graduates into entrepreneurs

According to reports, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is working on a strategy to turn some 20,000 unemployed graduates into entrepreneurs to help it meet its ambitious solar power generation targets—a plan it will implement in concert with state administrations. State governments will choose these graduates, preferably engineers, who will then be trained by the central government for around 3-6 months so they have the entrepreneurial and technical skills to set up solar power plants with a capacity of 1 megawatt (MW) each, to create 20,000MW of solar capacity combined.

While the states will identify the land, the central government may provide some subsidy under the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) for setting up these projects, each requiring an investment of Rs.6.5 crore. This is in addition to the government’s plan to train around 50,000 people in areas related to solar power. The plan is one example of the new federal compact that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in its campaign for the April-May general elections, promised to usher in between the Union government and states. “This is a win-win for both the centre and states,” said a government official on condition of anonymity because the plan is still in the works.

Skill development is a focus area of the government and the Skill India mission plans to train 500 million people by 2022 in an effort that the government believes would provide a job-ready workforce to several industries. “The idea is to generate employment, add to the solar generation capacity and partner with states for the same,” said a second government official, who also didn’t want to be named. NCEF is a green energy fund announced in the Union Budget of 2010-11. NCEF earlier involved levying a clean energy cess of Rs.50 per tonne on coal mined in India or imported. The cess has been doubled in this year’s Budget to Rs.100 per tonne.

The doubling of the cess will result in a collection of about Rs.6,000 crore every year. In the budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley also expanded the scope of NCEF’s use to include financing and promoting clean environment initiatives and funding research towards that end. While India has a solar generation capacity of 2,900MW, the BJP-led government has substantially revised an earlier target of achieving 20,000MW capacity by 2022 to 100,000MW. This would require an investment of around Rs.6.5 trillion over five years. Queries emailed to a spokesperson for the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) on Friday remained unanswered. India launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010, with the aim of adding 20,000MW of grid-connected solar power to the country’s energy mix by 2022 in three phases.

The BJP made energy security a key part of its campaign for the general election. “A $100 billion investment in the expansion of renewables is doable and fundable for which viable business model would have to be devised to make bankers want to lend for the development of the sector,” minister for power, coal, new and renewable energy Piyush Goyal said at a conference on Tuesday in New Delhi. The government has been stepping up its solar push. Mint reported on 19 November about the government’s plan to train around 50,000 people in areas related to solar power—a so-called solar army. The workforce will be trained through organizations such as the industrial training institutes (ITIs) under the national skill development mission. Of India’s installed power generation capacity of 254,649.49MW, renewable power has a share of only 12.45%, or 31,692.14 MW.

India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change recommends that the country generate 10% of its power from solar, wind, hydropower and other renewable sources by 2015, and 15% by 2020. “Harnessing the sun’s energy has several advantages over other forms of electricity generation: it reduces dependence on fossil fuel; has limited environmental impact; and can match peak supply with peak demand,” the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation arm said in a 19 November statement. “It also enables production of electricity where it is needed the most: at consumer locations, which almost eliminates transmission losses. While national and state policies have successfully kick-started the development of utility-scale solar power projects in India, the small-scale segment is still at an early stage,” it said.

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