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Insights into Editorial: Hits and misses: India’s solar power energy targets

 

Context:

A report, jointly prepared by two energy-research firmsJMK Research and Analytics and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis — says India will likely miss its 2022 target of installing 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity. This is because of rooftop solar lagging behind.

 

Brief Background: What is India’s solar policy?

Since 2011, India’s solar sector has grown at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 59% from 0.5GW in 2011 to 55GW in 2021.

  1. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), also known as the National Solar Mission (NSM), which commenced in January 2010, marked the first time the government focused on promoting and developing solar power in India.
  2. Under the scheme, the total installed capacity target was set as 20GW by 2022. In 2015, the target was revised to 100GW and in August 2021, the government set a solar target of 300GW by 2030.
  3. India currently ranks fifth after China, U.S., Japan and Germany in terms of installed solar power capacity.
  4. As of December 2021, the cumulative solar installed capacity of India is 55GW, which is roughly half the renewable energy (RE) capacity (excluding large hydro power) and 14% of the overall power generation capacity of India.
  5. Within the 55GW, grid-connected utility-scale projects contribute 77% and the rest comes from grid-connected rooftop and off-grid projects.

 

What does the recently released report say?

  1. As of April, only about 50% of the 100GW target, consisting of 60GW of utility-scale and 40GW of rooftop solar capacity, has been met.
  2. Nearly 19 GW of solar capacity is expected to be added in 2022 — 8GW from utility-scale and 3.5GW from rooftop solar.
  3. Even accounting for this capacity would mean about 27% of India’s 100GW solar target would remain unmet, according to co-author of the report and Founder, JMK Research.
  4. A 25GW shortfall in the 40GW rooftop solar target, is expected compared to 1.8GW in the utility-scale solar target by December 2022.
  5. Thus, it is in rooftop solar that the challenges of India’s solar-adoption policy stick out.

 

Reasons for rooftop solar adoption not meeting targets:

  1. In December 2015, the government launched the first phase of the grid-connected rooftop solar programme to incentivize its use in residential, institutional and social areas.
  2. The second phase, approved in February 2019, had a target of 40GW of cumulative rooftop solar capacity by 2022, with incentives in the form of central financial assistance (CFA).
  3. As of November 2021, of the phase 2 target of 4GW set for the residential sector, only 1.1GW had been installed.
  4. The disruption in supply chains due to the pandemic was a key impediment to rooftop solar adoption.
  5. In its early years, India’s rooftop solar market struggled to grow, held back by lack of consumer awareness, inconsistent policy frameworks of the Centre/ State governments and financing.
  6. Recently, however, there has been a sharp rise in rooftop solar installations thanks to falling technology costs, increasing grid tariffs, rising consumer awareness and the growing need for cutting energy costs.
  7. These factors are expected to persist giving a much-needed boost to this segment.
  8. Going ahead, rooftop solar adoption is expected to proportionally increase as land and grid-connectivity for utility solar projects are expected to be hard to come by.

 

Challenges and Factors impeding rooftop-solar installation:

  1. Pandemic-induced supply chain disruption to policy restrictions,
  2. Regulatory roadblocks;
  3. Limits to net-metering (or paying users who give back surplus electricity to the grid);
  4. Taxes on imported cells and modules,
  5. Unsigned power supply agreements (PSAs) and banking restrictions;
  6. Financing issues plus delays in or rejection of open access approval grants; and
  7. The unpredictability of future open access charges.

 

How critical is solar power to India’s commitment to mitigate climate change?

  1. Solar power is a major prong of India’s commitment to address global warming according to the terms of the Paris Agreement, as well as achieving net zero, or no net carbon emissions, by 2070.
  2. PM Modi at the United Nations Conference of Parties meeting in Glasgow, in November 2021, said India would be reaching a non-fossil fuel energy capacity of 500 GW by 2030 and meet half its energy requirements via renewable energy by 2030.
  3. To boost the renewable energy installation drive in the long term, the Centre in 2020 set a target of 450GW of RE-based installed capacity to be achieved by 2030, within which the target for solar was 300GW.
  4. Given the challenge of integrating variable renewable energy into the grid, most of the RE capacity installed in the latter half of this decade is likely to be based on wind solar hybrid (WSH), RE-plus-storage and round-the-clock RE projects rather than traditional solar/wind projects, according to the report.
  5. On the current trajectory, the report finds, India’s solar target of 300GW by 2030 will be off the mark by about 86GW, or nearly a third.

 

Conclusion:

In a country like India with a growing population, urbanization, and middle-class incomes, the demand is more in the evening peak hours when the sun is not shining.

And wind is available based on the season for 4-5 months in a year. To meet this challenge, we need a balanced combination of energy efficiency, demand-side management, and shifting load from evening hours to sunny hours.

It’s good news that the cost of battery storage is also coming down but it has not come down to a level where one can say it’s very attractive.