Brief update on the Indian Solar Summit – Gandhi Nagar – 20th and 21st April 2012.

by Jai Rathod

Here are some excerpts from the conference which was held at the Mahatma Mandir, Gandhinagar. Mr. DJ Pandian spoke of the Gujarat government’s goal of having at least 20% of their total electricity production from Renewable Energy sources by 2022. He also mentioned that solar power is already on par with power produced from imported LNG which at $18 / mmbtu translates to a production cost of Rs. 8-10 / unit. He spoke of how technology improvements will lead to reduction in land quantities required for solar, which currently stands at 25 acres / equivalent MW of coal-fired thermal power plants.

Ms. Laurence Mulliez from Eoxis presented some useful info on how the Spanish solar market went from 0 – 5000 MW in 5 years starting from 2005 and prices dropped from $563 / MWhr to $232 / MWhr (Rs. 28 to Rs. 12). The vast majority of these projects have been financed on a non-recourse basis – something that we have yet to see in India. Now of course, due to Spain’s financial condition, solar financing has almost come to a standstill. She also made special mention of Gujarat as a very pro-business, proactive and pragmatic government to deal with. A good point made was how the solar value chain was highly specialized in Spain – the EPC company is different while the O&M company is different – unlike India where a single company does everything. Also, the list of permits and clearances required in India is unclear which delays projects further.

Mr. V Saibaba, CEO, Lanco Solar, spoke of how solar can replace the country’s approx. 30,000 MW of diesel-fired power plants as their cost of generation is higher than solar. Cost of power from coal is at Rs. 3-4 per unit today and is only expected to rise.

Mr. Surinder Kumar Negi, MD, GETCO, said that the Gujarat government will soon have real-time 10 second updates on solar generation data from the Charanka Solar Park. This will be made available on the Gujarat SLDC website. Links to the data can be found here and here.

Mr. Bernhard Beck, CEO, Belectric opined that solar and wind power can create havoc in weak grids like India’s because of the ups and downs in power generated by these 2 media. While solar is more predictable than wind, there are still serious fluctuations such as those caused by a passing cloud cover. This will mean that the grid will go from receiving high power from solar to zero power from solar to again high power from solar. Such fluctuations can cause the local grid to trip very easily. He also made reference to how attractive the Indian solar market was. The German PV tariff, for instance, is now 1/3rd of the Indian tariff combined with lower levels of irradiation / sunshine.

Mr. Ravi Khanna, CEO (Solar Business), Aditya Birla Group spoke of how projects below a critical size (< 10 MW) are low in value but have almost the same infrastructure requirements. Civil or foundation work for mounting structures is also least in terms of value but takes maximum time. Other factors such as local availability of raw material also needs to be taken into account. 200 MW of solar mounting structures would require, for instance, more than 2000 tons of galvanized steel which may not be available locally. There is also variance in DNI (irradiation) data as offered by various organizations such as NASA etc.

Mr. Manu Karan, Business Development Head (Distributed Generation), Sun Edison, said that the market is now seeing a lot of interest in the solar rooftop space. He gave an interesting example of Germany where apart from 1% which comes from BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) and 15% from MW scale large solar plants, the rest of the solar capacity comes entirely from the solar rooftop sector! There are hurdles in achieving this in India though such as:

  • Subsidy timeline and uncertainty
  • Upfront large investments
  • Roof usage for other purposes – parties, drying etc.
  • Limited free rooftop space due to water tanks, elevator rooms etc.

With limited rooftop space maximizing power generation becomes important and this is why Crystalline PV would be a better bet than Thin Film technology. Other innovative solutions could be higher, elevated mounting structures.

Disappointingly though, the announcement of Phase 3 of the Gujarat Solar program did not happen, which was widely anticipated and promised by the organizers.

About Ritesh Pothan

Ritesh Pothan, is an accomplished speaker and visionary in the Solar Energy space in India. Ritesh is from an Engineering Background with a Master’s Degree in Technology and had spent more than a decade as the Infrastructure Head for a public limited company with the last 9 years dedicated to Solar and Renewable Energy. He also runs the 2 largest India focused renewable energy groups on LinkedIn - Solar - India and Renewables - India
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