Renewable Energy in India – Continuing To Find Hope Despite Adversity

A report jointly released this week by the environmental group Greenpeace, the Global Wind Energy Council, and the European Renewable Energy Council sees big things in the future for the second most-populated country in the world.  Events like the massive blackout this summer, that left over 600 million people without power at one point have spurred the initiative to pursue alternative methods to generate reliable electricity.

Much like in the United States with natural gas expansion, the report discusses how energy self-sustainability and job creation can go hand in hand with the initiative.  As of now, a mere 200,000 people are employed in the sector.  The “India Energy [R]evolution,” (IER) as the report is called, foresees an extremely sizable increase in that figure.  The IER predicts that with the appropriate amount of financial investment and policy commitment from the Indian government, India could see 14 times the amount of solar energy employees by 2030, creating up to 2.4 million jobs.  To sum it up, an excerpt from the report from Greenpeace International, states, “[The] future of India’s growth lies with massive expansion and deployment of renewable energy technologies through key policy reforms and significant investments, without putting any negative impact on its pristine forest and dependent marginalized communities.”

With rapid expansion in mind, India has begun to pursue successful policies within the region.  Earlier this month, Indian energy officials expressed interest in implementing a ‘feed-in-tariff’ (FiT) system such as the one instituted by Malaysia in 2011.  The system permits ‘microgrids,’ generating up to 30 megawatts of energy to be generated and sold back to power utilities at an established price for a set period of time.  The Indian government believes that such a system will be a viable option in India for those who are able to self-sustain with their energy and can also offer to assist the grid.

However, challenges have already begun to creep into the forefront of India’s pursuits.  A recent article posted by Bloomberg quotes an Indian government official saying that nearly two-thirds of current solar thermal power projects are being delayed.

One of the primary culprits is sand and heavy dust.  Other popular solar destinations like California and Germany do not contend with the heavy sand storms that afflict some regions of India.  As a result of direct sunlight being prevented from reaching the panels, electric generation can be stunted for prolonged periods of time and thus profitability is hampered.  As of now, the only remedy appears to be regular washing of individual panels.  The ‘watering’ process appears tedious and wasteful at best for the time being, but there are hopes to engineer a better solution in the near future.

Another issue affecting India’s solar program involves the supply chain of a solar panel.  Within a solar panel, the fluid that receives the sun’s heat to generate the steam used to create energy is only being produced by two major suppliers in the United States.  Due to overwhelming world-wide demand, countries like India are not importing enough of the fluid to keep projects moving smoothly.  As of now, no plan has been set into motion to fix the shortage.

It’s commendable for a country as sizable as India to take the appropriate steps to implement renewable energy.  The plans and projections that are in place will greatly benefit the Indian people for the long term.  But, until they are able to work through considerable adversity moving forward, such as the case for most solar projects across the globe, solar output will likely be limited in the immediate future.  That does not mean that explosive growth isn’t on the horizon, but optimism should remain tempered.

Kristopher Settle
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

Kris can be found on Twitter and Google+.

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