Solar power generation still behind schedule
Though 21 solar projects of 28 in the first batch are ready to supply electricity, at least nine haven’t begun production, according to two people involved with India’s solar mission.
The delay prevails, even after 14 of the 28 projects that were expected to generate 140 megawatts (MW) of solar power were fined for missing deadlines in January and are now expected to begin supplying power—after adjusting for delays—from the first fortnight of March.
India’s ambitious solar mission aims for the country to generate 20,000MW of solar power in the next decade. Of these, projects worth 1,000MW were bid out to a host of companies in eight states employing both solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies. Of these, 500MW of solar photovoltaic power is expected by 2013, with 140MW to have been ready by January.
In a power-starved India, several recent attempts at harnessing non-conventional energy sources such as nuclear power are running into hurdles, with local protests impeding the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, and now, a host of other obstacles holding up solar power.
Though solar power is expected to contribute less than 10% to India’s energy requirements by 2020, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, apart from being a pivotal arm of India’s strategy to address climate change, is expected to groom a domestic solar industry and alleviate at least some of India’s energy deficit.
The key obstructions to India’s nascent solar story are inadequate infrastructure to supply this power to customers and an ongoing investigation by the ministry of new and renewable energy into whether the Lanco Group covertly bagged more projects than permitted.
Due to this, 14 companies, or half of those who were to commission their projects by January, were fined Rs. 2 crore each by NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Ltd (NVVN), which coordinates the commissioning as well as power trading aspects of the solar mission, for missing their deadlines. In all, NVVN enchased a total of Rs. 28 crore in bank guarantees.
Separately, the lack of a power line that connects the solar station to the main grid, which was to be built by the state electricity organization, is impeding power from a significant portion of the projects in Rajasthan.
At least “35% of these projects in Rajasthan (which hosts a bulk of the projects and was expected to churn out 100MW by January) are not supplying power to the grid”, said one of the officials involved with the solar mission. He declined to be named.
“We are expecting a report on the status of these projects, but I believe that most of them have been commissioned,” said Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary at the ministry of new and renewable energy.
The investigation into companies started after Down To Earth magazine published by advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment alleged Lanco Infratech Ltd contravened rules and got solar projects in excess of its entitlement through a network of shell companies.
Lanco Infratech has denied any wrongdoing.
Kapoor said that a team involving the ministry of corporate affairs and the ministry of new and renewable energy were looking into these allegations and were expected to come up with a report next month.
S. Bharadwaj, a former official in the ministry of new and renewable energy, said the glitches in establishing the solar projects were because of the relative inexperience of the government as well as industry in the solar energy sector.
“There are problems, but I wouldn’t say all is lost. Once the first projects actually start supplying power, it will improve transparency as well as the efficiency of the sector,” he said.
DDE Renewable Energy Pvt. Ltd, Electromech Maritech Pvt. Ltd and Finehope Allied Engineering Pvt. Ltd, all of which have build solar projects in Rajasthan and in which Lanco Infratech has a stake, did not respond to requests for comment.