Turning to the sun

OUR PLANET 9.3 - Climate Change

Turning to the sun


outlines India's strategy for conserving fossil
fuels and mitigating climate change by
developing renewable sources of energy


Our expanding economy, and the strong growth expected in the next few decades, will require additional energy. The use of fossil fuels is likely to dominate our strategy for meeting these needs in the near and medium term. However, our own reserves are finite and will only be available for a limited period - about 150 years in the case of coal, and about 15 years for oil. Their price will rise steadily as production and availability become increasingly constrained. We need to adopt measures to conserve the scarce fossil fuels that are available to us in view of their strategic importance to the country.

Such measures could lead to increased import of fossil fuels, severely straining our foreign exchange reserves. Besides, the use of fossil fuels is not sustainable and is directly linked to environmental problems, particularly CO2 emissions and climate change. We will therefore need to cut back on their use for energy generation. Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind biomass and small hydro, are all indigenous and cannot be depleted. Exploiting them can make significant contributions to improving energy supplies in our country: they can bring down the requirement for imported fuels, are environmentally benign, and are compatible with the overall strategy for sustainable development.

Technological solutions

The importance of the increasing use of renewable energy sources was recognized in India in the early 1970s. During the past quarter century, a significant effort has gone into the development, trial and induction of a variety of technologies for use in different sectors. Today, India has one of the world's largest programmes for renewable energy. Our activities cover all the major renewable energy sources of interest to us, including biogas, biomass, solar, wind and small-hydro power and other emerging technologies. Several systems and products are now commercially available, and are economically viable in comparison to fossil fuels.

Providing energy for cooking in rural areas has been a major achievement. Two and a half million family-sized biogas plants (second in number only to China's) and 27 million improved wood stoves have been established. These are saving over 15 million tonnes of fuelwood every year. In addition, 3.2 million tonnes of enriched organic manure are produced from the biogas plants to supplement and complement expensive and environmentally degrading chemical fertilizers.

Solar thermal technologies are now finding ready acceptance for a variety of applications. About 400,000 square meters of collector area has so far been installed, ranging from domestic water heaters with capacities of 50 to 100 litres in about 25,000 homes, to industrial and commercial systems with capacities of up to 240,000 litres of hot water per day. Nearly half a million box-type solar cookers are also in use.

Photovoltaics is a simple, reliable and environmentally benign technology which is immediately available for providing electricity to our widely dispersed households and settlements. Over 400,000 solar photovoltaic systems, amounting to about 28 megawatts (MW), have so far been installed in India. They involve around 25 different types of systems for rural, remote area and commercial applications, including home and street lighting, water pumping and rural telecommunication systems. Solar lighting systems are now being used in 180,000 homes and are contributing to substantial savings in kerosene. About 150,000 rural radio telephones are also being powered by solar energy.

Grid quality power generation from wind, small hydro and biomass has now attained maturity. India's wind-power capacity of 925 MW ranks third in the world. Small-hydro power generation, which is particularly suitable for remote hilly regions, and in Ladakh and the northeastern states, is being expanded. We are implementing the world's largest bagasse-based cogeneration programme in our sugar mills. There is also considerable scope for extracting energy from urban and industrial waste. A total power generating capacity of about 1,200 MW has so far been added from renewables, most of it through commercial projects.

A large domestic manufacturing base has been established for renewable energy systems and products. India is the world's second largest producer of single crystal silicon solar cells. It produces 9 MW of modules per year - 10 to 12 per cent of world production. About 75 companies are involved in producing cells, modules and systems, and over 100 companies are involved in the local production of such solar thermal systems as solar cookers and water heaters. Twelve companies are actively engaged in the phased indigenous production and assembly of wind turbines under joint ventures or licensed production. Gasifiers of up to 500 kilowatt capacity are also being manufactured indigenously. The annual turnover of the renewable energy industry in the country has reached a level of over $0.5 billion.

The spread of renewable energy technologies has been aided by a variety of policy and support measures. India is the only country in the world with a ministry - the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources - that concentrates on them exclusively. India's Renewable Energy Development Agency was established as the only agency of its kind in the world to finance renewable energy projects. Incentives include soft loans, concessional rates of customs duty, exemption from excise duty and accelerated depreciation benefit to commercial users. Subsidies are available on some products, especially those used in rural areas such as improved chulhas, biogas plants, solar lanterns and home lighting systems.

We have worked closely with state governments and electricity boards to provide remunerative power purchase agreements and arrangements for the wheeling and banking of power so as to encourage its generation from renewable energy.

A significantly expanded programme will be taken up in the country during the Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2002). Another 1.5 million biogas plants and 25 million improved wood stoves are envisaged to provide cooking energy. A total solar photovoltaics capacity of 100 MW - including 1 million solar lanterns, 500,000 home lighting systems,10,000 solar pumps - as well as 55 MW for commercial applications and exports, has been proposed. Targets have also been proposed for 500,000 homes to be provided with solar water heaters, leading to a saving of 500 MW peak power, and for 500,000 square metres of solar collectors for industrial systems. An additional power generating capacity of 3,000 MW from renewables is also proposed.


Collaborative ventures

We are in a position to undertake consultancy, organize training programmes and establish projects in other developing countries on the basis of 'technological cooperation between developing countries' in view of their similar conditions and requirements. We can also undertake joint projects in third countries in partnership with industrialized nations using bilateral or multilateral financial assistance. A major drive has been launched to export our products, systems, technologies and services to our neighbours and other developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, West Asia and Africa. Several initiatives have already been taken in this direction, particularly in the area of solar photovoltaics.

At the end of the Eleventh Five Year Plan, in the year 2012, some 10 per cent of the total installed power generating capacity in the country is likely to be based on renewables. A comprehensive renewable energy policy and a separate legislation is being prepared for accelerated thrust to the development of this sector. Our country has already achieved a leadership position and has the potential to emerge as a truly major global player in this sector.

Captain Jai Narain Prasad Nishad is Minister of State for Non-Conventional Energy Sources, Government of India.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate & Action 1998
Madhav Gadgil: Catch that carbon (Climate & Action) 1998
Mark Moody-Stuart: Picking up the gauntlet (Climate & Action) 1998
R.K. Pachauri: Start locally (Climate & Action) 1998
Ashok Khosla: Under threat (Looking forward) 1999
Tej vir Singh: Keep the sharks out of the mountains (Tourism) 1999
Anil K. Agarwal: Effective, but how fair (Ozone) 1997
Surya Prakash Chandak: A crucial juncture (Chemicals) 1997
Harsha Batra: The planet does not belong to grown-ups only (UNEP 25) 1997
Laxmi Mall Singhvi: The East is green (Culture, Values and the Environment) 1996
Rachel Chatterjee: Designing sustainable solutions (Human Settlements) 1996

Contents Next Article


Home | Contributors | Hot Links |
Feedback - Environment Forum | Subscription | Mailing List

In case of difficulties with this site please contact the webmaster at:

Copyrightę1998 Banson
All rights reserved.