Shift from fossils to solar

Shift from fossils to solar

The ongoing session of Conference Of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change saw the launch of a grand Solar Alliance of 121 sunny countries.

The ongoing session of Conference Of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change saw the launch of a grand Solar Alliance of 121 sunny countries. But, such global assertions should be backed up by strong domestic policy action to affect a decisive shift from fossil fuels to solar energy to save cities like Chennai from environmental catastrophe.

India has certainly begun its journey on solar path. The total solar energy production has increased from 20 mW in 2011 to 3.74 gW as of March, 2015. But still a long way to go to make solar energy a significant contributor to India’s energy mix.

About 60 per cent of India’s energy requirements are met by burning hydrocarbons. This significantly increases Green House Gas emissions causing global warming. The accompanying costs of global warming on Indian economy are huge. If juxtaposed with this, the transition to renewable energy sources like solar energy seems to be certainly not a costly option.

India has a huge potential for solar energy as it has more than 300 sunny days in a year. India has lofty ambitions in this sector. India today has about 4 gW of installed capacity in solar energy. The country aims to increase it by 25 times to make it 100 gW by 2022. Such an ambitious target cannot be a reality without a policy paradigm shift.

As the approach paper to 12th plan said, it is necessary that scientific and technological (S&T) developments, in the solar energy field, are sufficiently internalised to keep the country abreast of international developments. In order to make solar power a success in the coming decades, it is vital that we develop the necessary domestic S&T capacity such that we can collaborate as peers with the rest of the global community.

The biggest challenge to be surmounted is the economics of solar energy production. A basic problem with most renewable energy sources is that they are significantly more expensive than conventional power. However, technological developments are reducing the cost of renewable generation and it is widely predicted that by 2019 the cost of solar power generation, which is currently six times higher than coal based electricity will come down to be approximately equal to the latter.

However, this equalisation is expected to occur partly because the cost of conventional fuels is expected to rise significantly. In other words, technological developments in the field of renewable energy will help overcome energy constraints, but only at significantly higher energy prices. The energy price is always a politically volatile issue in a democracy.

Besides, experts feel that several bottlenecks need to be overcome to promote a shift to solar power. They include poor conversion ratio of photo voltaic cells, improving the power storage capacity of batteries, high cost and relatively short life span of these batteries and non reliability of renewable energy sources for base load of power.

The need of the hour is inclusive technological innovations and fiscal incentives to boost solar power besides removing policy hurdles that come in the way of setting up solar power. A comprehensive and robust solar power policy that addresses the genuine concerns of both investors and consumers is the imperative.

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