Background: For the earth, the sun is an enormous, free and almost infinite source of energy. A medium sized star and a four billion years old fusion reactor, one minute duration radiation of the sun contains enough energy in the form of heat and light will suffice for the whole world for one year. Researches had been ongoing to tap this tremendous energy potential for hundreds of years. Solar energy harnessing to produce an alternate source of electricity essentially involves using the principles of photo electric and photo voltaic effect. Harnessing solar power involves a complex array of solar panels (either modular cell based or using the ‘thin film’ technology) converting the radiations from the sun into a viable source of electrical energy. Using solar power for generating electricity has been popular in the foreign countries for many years. Recently, from 2010, India is giving a serious consideration to the solar power harnessing concept on a large scale as an alternate source of electricity.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM):
Also known as the National Solar Mission, JNNSM was launched in 2010 as a partial solution to India’s depleting energy resources and also as a partial compensation of the 18% power shortage that our country suffers from, perpetually. The JNNSM is actually a part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. The official launching of JNNSM was chaired by the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh. With a budget of Rs385 crore the JNNSM spans a period of 12 years (2010-2022), the first phase of which ends in 2013. As per the address delivered by the minister of Information and Broadcasting, Ambika Soni during the formal launch of JNNSM, “It is a forward looking proposal. The Mission proposes to scale-up off-grid solar application by installing another 2000 MW capacity by 2022 including 20 million square meters of solar power collective area and 20 million solar lines”. “The mission will have a three phased approach for solar energy application in the country. There will be an aggressive research and development to reduce the cost and overall development of this field. A sum of Rs385 crore will be spent on research and development,” she added. She further added that , “R&D department will carry out field testing of emerging applications of solar energy and the first phase of the mission will be started carefully with proven applications. For facilitating the early launch of the mission, the public sector Vidyut Vitaran Nigam, a subsidiary of NTPC, will be designated as a nodal agency for entering into power purchase agreement with the solar power developers”.
Implementation of the JNNSM:
The initial plan of JNNSM was promotion of the ‘off grid’ system, the main target being the population of our country who are deprived of the traditional electric power supply. This will be followed by small additions of electricity derived from solar power to the ‘grid based system’. This was the first phase of the JNNSM to be completed by 2013. A successful completion of the first phase will launch the second phase of countrywide distribution of the solar power system backed by the experience gathered in the initial years of 2010- 2013. According to the plans outlined in JNNSM, solar energy harnessing saw a rapid development in the past three years. As per the statistics of 31st May 2013, the total wattage of the grid connected solar power system accredited is more than 1759.43 mega watts. According to a statement released on the behalf of Press Information Bureau (PIB), “Eleven projects of 50.50 MW under migration scheme, 26 projects of 130 MW capacity under the Batch -1 of the solar mission and 69 projects totaling 80.80 of small capacity power projects have been commissioned. A total capacity of 252.50 MW off grid solar power projects has been sanctioned and 60 MW have been commissioned”.
In addition to this, installations of solar thermal power harnessing units have been completed covering an area of 70.01 lakh square meters. It is expected that JNNSM will be able to fulfill its target of accrediting 1000 MW of grid connected solar power by 2013 which will see the successful completion of the first phase of this mission. The span of the second phase of the mission is from 2013-2017 and the final completion of the mission in 2022 with the aim of generating 20 giga watts (GW) of solar power. However, Batch -1 of the second phase scheduled to kick off by April 2013 has been delayed. This part constitutes mostly of off grid projects.
Challenges faced by JNNSM:
• Despite the Government mandate of local acquisition of solar cells and other allied technologies, 70% of the installed solar power harnessing facilities is using imported technology. This fact underlines that Government’s ‘Local Procurement Scheme’ has failed totally which was designed to protect the interests of the local domestic cell and module developers. However, this mandate was restricted to ‘Crystalline Technology’ specifically. Solar project developers are now resorting to the much cheaper and imported ‘Thin Film Technology’. This particular technology is not available in our country and the local cell and module manufacturers are having a low business.
• The solar energy harnessing sector is a fund starved sector. Proper financing is not available either for companies or in the domestic sector despite the standing approval of the Reserve Bank of India.
• A change in the market demeanor is extremely necessary even if it calls for Government or other necessary interferences. Such actions will make the solar appliances more sustainable and feasible.
A scam associated with solar power harnessing:
The solar scam in Kerala led to the arrest of Chief Minister Oomen Chandy’s personal assistant Tenny Joppan last year along with Saritha S Nair (deep nexus with the ruling United Democratic Front – UDF), Shalu Menon (a 28 year old classical danseuse and actress also with political connections) who were in cahoots with the main culprit Biju Radhakrishnan on charges of deceiving and swindling money from common people. Using their non-existent and counterfeit firm Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions as a front, Biju and Saritha deceived a number of people by offering them equity in nonexistent solar/ wind farm projects and setting up of solar panels. The entire incident raised a huge political uproar and a special investigation team (SIT) was set up by the additional director general of police, A Hemachandran after Saritha’s arrest.
Every country is now looking for alternative sources of power. Like harnessing solar power, utilization of wind power is now a popular source of alternative power in many countries. In India wind power isn’t feasible because the country doesn’t have strong winds throughout the year but the equatorial proximity of India on the globe guarantees the country an almost consistent and strong sunlight throughout the year. Hence, solar power harnessing is a viable source of alternative energy for the country. The successful completion of the National Solar Mission will undoubtedly help India to emerge as a globally important entity in solar energy.