Wednesday, January 13, 2010

NSM formally launched, but why so much focus on thermal solar?

So, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) has been launched! The NSM was launched by the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, at the Solar Energy Conclave organized by the MNRE at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi this week in the presence of Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Union Minister for New & Renewable Energy, Sharad Pawar, Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Government of India.

In his address, the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, said: “Increased use of solar energy is a central component of our strategy to bring about a strategic shift from our current reliance on fossil fuels to a pattern of sustainable growth based on renewable and clean sources of energy. I sincerely hope that this solar Mission will also establish India as a global leader in solar energy, not just in terms of solar power generation but also in solar manufacturing and generation of this technology.

“The importance of this Mission is not just limited to providing large-scale grid connected power. It has the potential to provide significant multipliers in our efforts for transformation of India’s rural economy. Already, in its decentralized and distributed applications, solar energy is beginning to light the lives of tens of millions of India’s energy-poor citizens.

“The rapid spread of solar lighting systems, solar water pumps and other solar power-based rural applications can change the face of India’s rural economy. We intend to significantly expand such applications through this Mission. As a result, the movement for decentralized and disbursed industrialization will acquire an added momentum, a momentum which has not been seen before.

“I am happy that the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has been associated with this event. The role of industry in this Mission’s success will be critical. Eventually, if the ambitious roll out of the Mission is to become a living reality, we will have to create many ‘Solar Valleys’ on the lines of the Silicon Valleys that are spurring our IT industry across the four corners of our country.

Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Union Minister, stated in his keynote: “This Mission is named after India’s first and visionary Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. For him, India’s development needed to be anchored in its mastery over cutting-edge technologies. The Solar Mission is very much in line with his vision, which has made India today, a leading nuclear and space power. He would have been equally keen and proud to see India attaining the same level of advancement in solar energy. I am confident, that under the leadership of our Hon’ble Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, we shall make India a global solar power as well.”

The focal point, for the next three years, will be the NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam (NVVN), which is the power trading arm of the NTPC. NVVN will purchase solar power at rates fixed by the Central Regulatory Electricity Commission (CERC) and for a period specified by the latter.

Now, I wasn’t able to attend this conference, but was able to download the presentations from the MNRE website. I’ve seen the first two presentations so far. These are: Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission – Dr. B. Bhargava, direcor, MNRE, and Solar Grid Power Projects Guidelines – I.J. Kapoor, Director Commercial, NTPC Ltd.

First, the targets are quite clear:

Targets set for development of solar power under NSM
Installed Capacity (MW)
Phase – I (up to 2013) 1100 MW
Phase – II (up to 2017) 4000 MW
Phase – III (up to 2022) 20000 MW

I’ve seen some points in these two presentations, which I don’t quite understand, especially in the second one. Those industry colleagues who have attended this solar conference at Vigyan Bhavan, may I request you to share your opinions!

For instance, in the selection of solar power developers (SPDs), the ratio of solar PV to solar thermal is proposed to be in the ratio of 40:60! I am tempted to ask: why so much focus on thermal solar? Yes, an NSM target is to create favorable conditions for solar manufacturing capability, particularly, solar thermal for indigenous production and market leadership. But, why maintain the 60 percent for thermal solar all the way up to 2022? Can’t it be toned down in the later years and phases to accomodate newer technologies? Won’t PV prices have dropped sufficiently by then?

Second, I wonder how the net worth of the SPD for the past three years will be calculated, as well as the SPD’s turnover of last three years. How many have been really around for three years, unless they are large industrial house? What about newcomers? Since I wasn’t present at the conference, please share your opinion, friends.

Third, the readiness of PPAs and PSAs by 31st March 2010, which means, preparing the implementation mechanism will take another two months. Fourth, the readiness for signing of PPAs and PSAs is by 31st October 2010. Isn’t eight months a very long time? Nearly the entire 2010 will be gone by then — the first year of the NSM period.

Fifth, a committee under former Secretary-IPP will be formed to suggest measures to establish solar thermal power industry in the country. By when? Was a date given during the conference? I don’t know, as I wasn’t present there, and request those who are aware, to share the information.

Am sure a lot of thought has gone into the NSM. I am just raising these points out of my ignorance. In some ways, the NSM is also a triumph for the Indian semicon policy.

I quite like the off-grid solar applications, which have a target of 200 MW capacity in the first phase (up to 2013). The focus would be on:
- solar lights
- rural power supply
- replacement of diesel
- telecom towers
- solar water heaters
- solar cooking for institutional use

There is a link on MNRE’s web site (, which says: ” Your suggestions about Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission.” Those who have any suggestions or queries, should post those to the MNRE.

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