India renewablesAbu Dhabi once again welcomed the delegates of the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) on January 16. This three-day gathering represents an annual meeting of energy sector experts, committed to the global advancement of energy efficiency, innovation and the use of clean technology. China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the CEO of Solar Impulse Bertrand Picard are amongst the conference’s distinguished speakers. The presence of the highest ranking political leadership of the emerging economies is not surprising as they represent key players in the global battle for energy. Dr Farooq Abdullah, India’s Minister for new and renewable energy, shares his views on the challenging balance between environmental degradation and energy needs globally and in his native land.

How important are renewable energy and clean technology to emerging markets such as India?

We are now on the verge of a second transition as far as renewables are concerned. We have passed through the phase of research, development and small scale deployments and now have an installed base of over 22,000 MW renewable-based capacity, which is around 11 per cent of India’s total power generation capacity. We have added over 11 GW capacity in the last 5 years and plan for another 30 GW in the next 5 years.

What initiatives is India undertaking to promote the growth of this sector?

India is perhaps the only country in the world to have an exclusive ministry devoted to the growth and development of renewable energies. We stand among the top five countries of the world in terms of renewable energy capacity. Our most recent initiative, The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, envisages a capacity addition of 20,000 MW of grid solar power by 2022. A similar ambitious mission, the National Bio-Energy Mission, aims to tap the over 15 GW bio-energy potential in the country.

In which areas do you see renewable energy providing an easy replacement for traditional sources?

Renewable energy has already created its space in grid-connected power generation. Wind and small hydro are commercially viable options. We are working towards grid –parity in solar. However, what is most amazing is the capacity of decentralized renewable applications to usher in energy access for all, including the most disadvantaged and the most remote of our habitations. In its decentralized or standalone version, renewable energy is the most appropriate, scalable and optimal solution for providing power to thousands of remote and hilly villages and hamlets. By providing energy access to such communities, it becomes one the biggest drivers of inclusive growth.

How does India’s National Solar Mission fare compared to other emerging economies?

The Solar Mission aims to add 20,000 MW solar power capacity by 2022. Phase I of the Mission is now under implementation. In this year alone 186 MW of grid-connected solar power projects have been commissioned and another 300 MW are likely to be commissioned by March 2012. We have succeeded in cutting solar power costs by allotting projects through a tight international auction process.  For instance, in the latest auction the lowest bid came from Solairedirect SA, a French company, at 7.490 dollars a kW. That’s about 38 percent below the average price in the December auction (Batch-I) and about 30 percent cheaper than the global average for similar projects.

What are the biggest challenges for the growth of renewable energy in India? Are these challenges unique to India or common to the global community?

As a distributed energy system, renewable energy has the inherent advantage of greater resource flexibility, but is also currently more costly than centralized power. Hence, there is a continuous need for innovation to increase efficiencies and bring down costs. The challenge before us in the renewable energy sector generally, and in India particularly, is to reduce the per-unit cost of renewable energy. Besides, the power generated through renewable energy is usually intermittent and sometimes difficult to predict. There are also other challenges like those related to technology and financing.

I see the role of governments as active facilitators who will work to create an enabling ecosystem for promoting newer business models, technical and market innovations, as well as promoting basic and applied research.

What can the Middle East, and in particular Abu Dhabi, offer India in terms of opportunities in renewable energy and energy efficiency?

Renewable energy is the future of mankind and the key to sustainable development. I am delighted to note that the UAE, despite its abundant hydrocarbon resources, has taken the initiative in promoting renewable energy and in hosting the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). We, in India, see tremendous opportunities in cooperation not only via the medium of IRENA but also at the bilateral level. India will be happy to leverage its resources to help in capacity building and resource assessment. 

(Photo © DR)