THE need to generate power from renewable sources of energy is being increasingly emphasised due to growing awareness about climate change. V Subramanian, secretary in the ministry of new and renewable energy, feels the cost of solar power generation would come down over time due to technological improvements. Subsidy to producers of solar power is inevitable at this juncture, he told G Ganapathy Subramaniamin an interview. Excerpts. Why should the government subsidise solar power? The estimated cost of generating solar power is around Rs 15 per kilowatt hour (KWh). This is the cost of supplying photovoltaic power to the grid, without involving any batteries for storage. Since the unit cost of power generated through conventional sources is far lower and the cost at which power is bought by state electricity boards is cheaper, the government has decided to subsidise solar power generation. The incentive is up to Rs 12 per Kwh for electricity generated from solar photovoltaic and a maximum of Rs 10 per Kwh for electricity generated through solar thermal power plants. We need to provide subsidy in order to encourage generation of clean energy. This subsidy is only for power supplied to the grid. It is not applicable for any private supply or captive use. The subsidy component would go down over a period of time. How will the subsidy, once awarded, go down? The initial cost of solar photovoltaic systems is high because raw materials like silicon wafers are imported. We expect costs to come down over a period of time due to advances in technology. In the next four to five years, we expect conversion efficiency of solar power plants to improve to 18% as compared to 14% or 16% now. The industry, on its part, is trying to reduce consumption of silicon wafers. As a result of these measures, cost of solar cells and modules should come down by about 33%. Therefore, the subsidy component can be reduced over a period of time. There is a built-in provision to bring down maximum subsidies by 5% each year for capacities commissioned from 2010-11 onwards if the current programme is not reviewed in 2009-10. Do you believe the subsidy offer would attract a large number of investors? As much as 97% of the power generation capacity based on renewable energy is built on the strength of incentives and government policies. This includes wind energy, power from waste, bagasse co-generation and biomass conversion programmes. For the sake of clean energy, incentives have been provided. We are confident of the solar power scheme since it is a direct, upfront subsidy. The programme would be implemented through IREDA and there is no chance of bureaucratic red tape coming in the way of the delivery system. State electricity boards will not feel any disincentive since they are buying power at commercial rates, similar to what is paid to other electricity producers. Moreover, we are also providing state electricity boards with an incentive of 10 paise per unit sourced from solar power generation. How much progress have we made in generating renewable energy? By the end of 2007, installed capacity of solar photovoltaic systems in the country has increased to 125 MW in various applications like lighting, rural telecom and offshore oilwell-head platforms. We have street lighting systems, lanterns, home lighting and pumping systems run on solar power, apart from stand-alone units. Installed capacity in the case of wind energy has increased to 7,092 MW, followed by 1,975 MW in the case of small hydro projects, 615 MW in the case of bagasse co-generation, and 524 MW in the case of biomass conversion. In the short-tomedium term, we can generate more power from renewable sources as compared to nuclear power. We have set the ball rolling with the subsidy scheme for solar power and the initial response is very positive. There are people who do not want their investments restricted to 50 MW, but we have kept in mind the need to keep the window open for opportunities from various parts of the country. Can we quantify the projected benefits from the subsidy for solar projects? Every solar plant with 1 MW capacity would produce 2 million KW of electricity, taking care of 5,000 families if we go by the government's commitment of providing at least 1 KW of power to each rural household. Apart from this, each of these plants would create 25 to 40 jobs directly and another 400 indirectly.

Residents of Howrah may finally heave a sigh of relief as it will not be long before the garbage dump at Belgacchia in Howrah is turned into a green power plant. The Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) has already prepared the letter of intent (LOI). It will be sent to the state government for approval and then sent to Solid Waste Electricity Company (Selco) International Limited, the company which has bagged the project, for its perusal. An official of the building and planning department of the civic body, said: "The letter has been drafted, it just needs the state government's approval before being sent to Selco. Once LOI reaches Selco, it will then have to prepare a detailed project report (DPR) for which we have given them 10 days time. Selco will then have to get clearance from the environment department as well as the Pollution Control Board.' He added that once all these formalities are completed, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) will be signed. At the time of signing of MoU, Selco will be paying Rs 10 lakh to the HMC as guarantee. Selco, the Hyderabad-based company, will then get 18 months time to complete the power plant project. However, it may be granted an extended time of six months if it is unable to complete the project within 18 months, owing to any unavoidable circumstances. The official further added that a power purchase agreement (PPA) will be signed between Selco, HMC and West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA) only when the green plant starts producing electricity. Though the official refused to divulge details of the tariffs the civic body has set to impose on Selco, he said that HMC will be enjoying major benefits. The decision to turn the huge heap of garbage at Belgacchia into a green plant was taken in June last year by WBREDA, HMC and DM. However, it took some months before Selco was chosen for the project, defeating two foreign investors, one each from China and the USA. Mr Imitiaz Ahmed, MMiC (garbage and conservancy), said: "We had invited global tenders and so even foreign companies had shown interest in the project. However, Selco was selected as it had the right expertise and suited the interests of the civic body.' The HMC will supply about 600 metric tons of garbage every day which will generate 6 MW power. The project is the first of its kind in West Bengal.

Asutosh College, in south Calcutta, has become the first college in the state to use solar power. A 73-watt panel, set up on the roof of the college with help from the West Bengal Renewable Energy Resource Development Agency, is powering instruments in the physics, electronics and computer laboratories for the past 10 days. Asutosh College principal Debabrata Chowdhury said: "The use of non-conventional source of energy is likely to increase the life span of sophisticated instruments in the laboratories. This is one of reasons we opted for solar energy.'

If two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are correct, people will still be driving gasolinepowered cars 50 years from now, churning out heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

Plastic garbage is playing havoc with mother earth. From villages to cities plastics are being used in such a way that the whole country seems to be a heap of plastic garbage. A Nagpur based company has taken initiative to use plastic garbage in producing petro products. Dr Jhadgaonkar related to this company, gave information to municipal corporation and MP Pollution Control Board officials about the scheme of converting plastic garbage into petro products. Earlier, this scheme went to bite dust due to the negligence of officials. Now, the work of implementing this scheme has started.

A section of the government is impressed by a waste-to-fuel conversion project under taken by a teacher-entrepreneur duo in Maharashtra. The technology developed by a chemistry teacher and now commercialised by a company

India clearly had a head-start over China in the wind energy sector. But given the pace at which things are moving in the two countries, it is just a matter of time before China overtakes India in the total installed capacity and net annual additions. N. Ramakrishnan Advertisement

South Korean president-elect Lee Myung Bakandhis administration will increase the country's share in the global renewable energy market in an effort to help boost economic growth. The new government aims to increase the share to 5% by 2012from 0.8% now, according to a statement from the climate change and energy taskforce of Lee's presidential transition committee. South Korea, which imports 97%of its energy and mineral needs, will join Japan in encouraging factories and power stations to use cleaner fuels to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Lee will seek to export nuclear reactors for commercial use the taskforce said in the statement.


State-run NTPC has initiated talks with GE Energy Financial Services of the US, Kyushu Electric Power Company of Japan and Brookfield Power Corporation of Canada for setting up a joint venture company to undertake renewable power generation. It has initiated the move in accordance with its memorandum of understanding with Asian development Bank .