REI: India poised to play global role in promoting universal solar access, says MNRE

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The heat and chaos of a September weekday morning in New Delhi is an intense experience. The sensory overload that assaults you as you leave the calm, air-conditioned confines of your hotel is oppressive on first taste, but quite addictive on the second bite.

India does things its own way. From the “me first” approach to driving and ‘waiting’ in line to the unerringly affirmative response to any request – a centuries-old “fake it ’till you make it” mindset – the country has certainly carved its own cultural path.

But it is this unique outlook on life that nurtures the world’s largest – and largely peaceful – democracy, is driving steep economic growth, and has underpinned the National Solar Mission’s (NSM) impressive progress in such a short space of time.

At the opening session of the Renewable Energy India expo, held this morning in Greater Noida, all of these traits were in evidence as the secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) Shri Upendra Tripathy took to the podium to declare the show, and the nation, is open for business.

Speaking of the NSM’s goal to install 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022, Tripathy acknowledged that eyebrows were raised globally when India’s government set itself such a target. “We were a MW-scale market suddenly transitioning to 175 GW [of renewable capacity] by 2022. But this is not a transition in the way we traditionally think about renewable energy,” Tripathy said. “We had to look at how to do it. How to get to 100 GW of solar in a short space of time. And we realized that we have to transform our electricity market using speed, scale, and skill.”

Three-step process

The skill, Tripathy admitted, was lacking, and in many places still is. Hence, the MNRE is currently training 3,000 students in 150 institutions across India to become clean energy leaders and shape the transition. India’s PV manufacturing base is growing, but the industry is still heavily reliant on foreign imports, investment and expertise.

The scale – that 2022 target – was settled upon after many fruitful meetings with solar developers, financiers, foreign investors, Tripathy added, and thus a series of policies were implemented, and are still being added today. “A new scheme allows commercial and industrial customers to install up to 5 MW freely, and receive a PPA backed by the government,” he said. “This is giving SME industries a unique opportunity, and means that solar in India is not to be dominated by a handful of large developers.”

On to speed. Solar installations in India have to grow by around 20 GW a year between now and 2022 in order to reach the 100 GW target. The MNRE is aware of the challenges of this goal, which is one of the reasons why India spearheaded the creation of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the COP21 conference in Paris last year.

“The ISA is poised to address many of the major issues we face globally, not just in India,” said Tripathy. “Access to land, technology and capital being the three. The ISA will play a role in promoting universal energy access, bringing in cross-border policies that will increase the deployment of solar, and look to mobilize more than $100 billion in financing by 2030.

“These are issues that need a global address, and we believe that India’s NSM can be a model for other countries.”

The MNRE secretary spoke of a possible collaboration with the Global Solar Council – also launched in Paris last year – and the growing importance of storage technologies. “If storage costs fall by half over next few years, storage can bring a great deal of benefit to India,” he said.

The ISA will also see to earmark $300 million in global credit for solar deployment – but to do so in a more creative way than usual. “This $300 million sum should be used creatively; not to be used as loans, but to be used to make loans safer and more attractive to investors – this is the best way to make the NSM’s, and the ISA’s, target more achievable.”

India has also set aside 10-15% of its lines of credit for the development of solar projects in Africa under the ISA. The country will host the first ISA founding conference this year. India is also offering a range of technical programs for solar development, providing training and a living allowance at the National Institute of Solar Energy in India. The ISA is looking at ways to increase this program through more collaborative funding.

The REI expo runs for three days, from Wednesday September 7 to Friday September 9, and will address a range of topics and issues that are currently shaping the Indian solar sector. The show will host discussions on India’s rooftop PV sector, the rise of competitive bidding, M&A financing opportunities, O&M and the challenges facing India’s solar manufacturing industry.

As always, pv magazine will be on hand to bring you up-to-date reporting and the latest trends and opinion from the show.