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Shaping Renewable Energy Future

With solar being the new hope of India’s renewables push in coming years, a leading panel of experts discussed the market’s drivers and catalysts, and how to overcome challenges that cripple the industry.

Nishita Chandak@timesgroup.com

More than 1.2 billion people still have no access to electricity in the world. And in a country like India where approximately 300 million people are yet to be empowered with power, a rapid shift towards clean energy is a distant goal but the country has the advantage of high sunshine throughout the year that makes it the ideal destination to install solar for harnessing energy from the sun. Solar photovoltaic power generation has great potential for growth since the cost of power generation with these systems has reduced tremendously in the past few years.

With India’s cumulative solar installations reaching 20 GW in eight years, the government is working rigorously towards driving development  of solar power plants in the country, aiming for the solar energy targets of 100 GW by 2022. However, low tariffs have led to compromise in quality of solar projects and pose threat to lifetime performance of projects which may lead to high power losses and system failures. At this critical growth juncture, building highly durable and reliable solar power systems that would perform even in the harshest climatic conditions and generate energy for their intended lifetime of 25 years is crucial to make solar a sustainable means of power generation for the country. With the increasing deployment of solar energy in India, the quality of each and every component must be unwavering to help ensure investment stability for all stakeholders to continue investing in this form of energy. While the challenges are great, these are also times of great opportunity. In an initiative by The Economic Times and DuPont, industry experts discussed the future of solar energy adoption in India in a panel discussion titled “Roadmap for a Sustainable Solar Energy Future”.

But there are various sustainability challenges in the path towards growth. Sharing some concerns, Anil Kottantharayil, Professor- IIT Bombay, said, “For large number of installations in 2016, 14 out of 37 sites that we have inspected, module annual power degradation rates were higher than 2 per cent per year. This is substantially higher than the rates used in LCOE (levelized cost of energy) calculations which assume it to be 0.8 per cent. And this indicates that there is something wrong with solar panels, may be the materials, manufacturing etc.” Talking about dangers of lower tariffs, Ashish Khanna, ED and CEO, Tata Power Solar, explained ‘lower tariff means lower quality’ is an assumption. He shared, “In the past few years, technology has changed and there are a lot of innovations contributing to the tariffs. But of course, tech advancements and capacity enhancements aren’t in the proportion in which some of the tariffs are lowering.” Sharing insights on innovation, Chuck Xu, Global Business Director, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, said, “Innovation is the only sustainable solution to deliver quality, reliability and return on investment. It’s our job to innovate to reduce cost and also to provide longterm reliability.” He opines that efficiency and material usage are key towards sustainable solar future. Chipping in on increasing efficiency with innovation, Kottantharayil added, “Certain researches suggest that siliconbased solar cells with additional materials on top – heterojunction solar cells – can increase efficiencies by more than 30 per cent.” He added: “This is a major advancement, where we may be looking at doubling the modular efficiency in the next 10 years’ time”.

From innovation and technology, the discussion moved toward challenges for a sustainable solar future. Sunil Jain, Managing Director, Hero Future Energies, said, “There is a difference between quality and technology issues. We have technology, but its quality that we need to control. And it primarily depends on type of product and material used. We need to evaluate the product in terms of quality.” He explained that land remains to be one of the biggest challengers for every country. Europe, Australia, Japan etc. have moved to roof top solar purely because of poor availability of land. He shared: “We have improved, there was a time when we used 6 acres per megawatt which is now less than 4 acres. It is because the panel efficiency has improved.” No energy discussion can be complete without taking finance into account. This discussion saw Pawan Agrawal, Senior President and Global Head, Renewable Energy, Yes Bank, take the lead from the financier’s perspective. Talking about certain concerns on how lower tariffs can have implications on the quality of projects, he said, “We are very cautious. As a lender, we see each project individually. Funding remains the most crucial aspect when it comes to tariffs.” He explains that in India, the interest rates are high but credit spread isn’t, and a lot of innovative mechanisms have been done in the past few years to address it. He shared, “The way pricing Can be addressed is if we can do something more about the corporate bond market.” For India’s solar energy dreams to be achieved, we need to push hard to convert our geographical position to our advantage. If lower tariffs are the reason for grid-scale solar growth, then it should apply to end users too. However, rooftop solar is far behind schedule to meet the 40 GW goal. Tata Solar Power’s Khanna believes that India is a latecomer in the renewable energy space and “we should take that advantage and leapfrog further. Why can’t we innovate and spend on technologies?” He believes that this challenge exists because the nation has started it as a race rather than providing for the needs. The Sun is going to shine for the next several million years, so stating solar energy source to be sustainable is a pretty safe bet. And as the experts suggested, we are late comers in adopting solar compared to other regions. So, we should learn from others’ mistakes and skip the steps that were less successful for other countries. However, we face the same challenges of making solar projects feasible and supply of solar power sustainable for which focus should be on improving quality, lifetime, and efficiency to reduce LCOE. Investment in technology will help drive efficiency improvement and cost reduction of the solar panels.

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