Thursday, May 2, 2013

Green Economy: Renewable energy to power GDP growth in times of slowdown

India stands amongst the top five countries in the world in terms of installed renewable energy (RE) capacity - around 9 per cent of the total power generation capacity. From the twin perspectives of energy security and environmental sustainability, as well, renewable energy is a big bet
The rapid economic growth and consequent industrialization and urbanization have resulted in massive demand for power in India. While the electricity sector is facing growing uncertainty on conventional fuel supply side, the government has shifted focus to the country's abundant renewable resources. India stands amongst the top five countries in terms of renewable energy capacity, with an installed base of over 15 GW, which is around 9 per cent of India's total power generation capacity and contributes over 3% in the electricity mix. Installed wind capacity has the largest share at over 12 GW, followed by small hydro at 2.8 GW. Solar contributes about 15 MW. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) targets total capacity of 20 GW grid-connected solar power by 2022. Renewable energy technologies are being deployed at industrial facilities to provide supplemental power from the grid, and over 70% of wind installations are used for this purpose. Biofuels have not yet reached a significant scale in India.
India's installed solar power capacity of 15.2 MW at the end of June 2010 was based entirely on PV technology with approximately 20% of the capacity being used for off-grid applications. Currently, more attention is being paid to large-scale solar PV projects. JNNSM has been the key driver of the growth of the Indian solar industry. It targets installations of 20 GW of grid-connected and 2 GW of off-grid solar power by 2022 (both PV and CSP) in phased manner.
In Phase 1 of the JNNSM, which ends in 2013, the target is to install 500 MW of grid-connected solar PV power and equal MW of CSP. Besides the central government scheme of the JNNSM, several projects are also running under state programs such as in Punjab, Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Karnataka, though many of these are being migrated to the JNNSM. The creation of special economic zones that provide land, water, and power as well as financial incentives has spurred growth in domestic manufacturing.
The growing interest of sector players towards the government ambitious mission may be gauged from the first batch of project allocations under the JNNSM. Over 333 project developers had put forward bids worth 1,815 MW for 150 MW of PV projects. Given this unexpected oversubscription, the government decided to award contracts based on a competitive reverse bidding process, due to which tariffs fell by around 30 per cent from an initial offered price of Rs 17.91 per kWh to Rs 10 per kWh. Of the 30 project winners in the Batch 1 of Phase 1, 28 signed PPAs and half of them were commissioned their projects before deadline. Some of the projects that were completed could not start power generation due to lack of adequate evacuation infrastructure. 14 projects missed the commissioning deadline and were promptly penalised by the NVVN by encashing their bank guarantees. MNRE deserves credit for not extending the commissioning deadline and also for letting NVVN penalise the projects that missed the deadline. Prices fell further in the second round of JNNSM phase I bidding which has taken everybody in the sector by surprise. Rs 10.59 per kWh bid during the first round of bidding went further down to the lowest quoted price of Rs 7.49 per Kwh by a French company.
The industry is divided on the sustainability of solar projects at this low pricing. While some argue that these developers are well-established with a strong financial backing and proven track record, will sustain, for others it is sure a cause of concern. There are demands for change in selection criteria of MNRE in order to ensure only serious players stay in the industry. For now, we can only wait and watch to see what happens in the coming months of the sector.
Another interesting development regarding developer's shifting focus towards less expensive thin film from crystalline has also been witnessing, which has enabled these developers to reduce their capital cost. Currently, the domestic content requirement is mandated only for crystalline silicon technology whereas it is not applicable for thin film technology. This has led to imported thin film modules account for about 60-70% of all PV installations in the country (including projects under the Gujarat State Policy). Thin film modules come with low cost financing support, which has direct bearing on the project's capital cost. While it is laudable that solar tariffs have been brought down substantially, there is a need to analyse as to how much of that was because of slowdown of the European markets together with the expansion of manufacturing capacities, especially in China. It is not yet not certain whether this downward trend would continue or stabilise at current levels, which has its bearing on JNNSM's goal.
Challenges Ahead
MNRE, which is responsible for administering JNNSM has followed a policy of progressively increasing domestic content. In the last batch of Phase 1, MNRE mandated a domestic content requirement (DCR) for both cells and modules, however, it only specified this for crystalline PV technology, not thinfilm. Consequently, more than 75% of projects used imported thin-film technology, and ignored domestically manufactured cells and modules. This behaviour was contrary to the global norms where only ~15% of installations use thin-film. In India, the root cause of this choice was not technological but financial. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) researchers say that the US Exim Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) have been offering very low rates of interest (about 3%) and a long repayment schedule (up to 18 years) to Indian solar project developers if they buy thin-film panels manufactured by US companies. As of now, as MNRE gets ready to launch the next major phase of JNNSM, it's position regarding domestic content requirement in the next phase of JNNSM remains unclear despite desperate entreaties from domestic manufacturers to enforce DCR in its true spirit and not just name.
The core issue remains that any dilution of the domestic content requirements of JNNSM sets up perverse behaviour in the marketplace due to current global supply dynamics where value leaks out to exporters in US and Asia. For example: thin-film, a technology most experts agree is unsuitable for India, takes >75% share of the projects purely due to subsidized financing. In addition, many sub-standard modules make their way into India as the policy remains sensitive only to cost and not quality, which in the long term will harm the industry. Above all, most Indian manufacturers continue to operate at less than 25% capacity utilization and incur huge losses. In 2013, analysts expect there will be close to 1 GW worth of project installations in India but out of which only 10-15% will use domestically made cells and modules, even though the domestic industry has a capacity to provide 100% of these installation. Unless this situation is corrected, there would be a serious impact on the continuity of the Indian Solar manufacturing capacities:
* Closure of most manufacturing units or shifting to regions, countries with friendlier policies
* Killing all future research and expansion plans of domestic solar manufacturing
* Resources/Investment write-offs and employment losses in near future
* Significant opportunity loss to India and gains to China, in context of manufacturing GDP
If the manufacturing base for solar products is eliminated, there is a real risk of India becoming dependent on import of solar technology and equipment, compromising our energy security.
Without compromising the interest of the solar industry as a whole, the solution needs to be implemented at two levels:
Comprehensive domestic content requirement: This is the preferred long-term solution to supporting Indian industry, promoting energy security as well as creating a level-playing field given the significant capacity already available in India. The need is for a more comprehensive DCR that doesn't give any loopholes to be exploited (e.g., thin-film) and extends the policy to state level and not just centre.
Anti-dumping and/or Countervailing duties: This is the preferred short-term solution, per WTO guidelines, that will level the playing field immediately and help the local industry to sustain. While an anti-dumping investigation is currently in progress, the government needs to issue a preliminary tariff ruling by June at the latest to provide desperately needed relief to the ailing manufacturing industry.
Dumping, in any form, impacts the sustainability of the industry concerned. These recommendations, critical for the survival of the Indian solar manufacturing industry, are similar to steps that most of the governments across the world are taking to protect their domestic solar manufacturing industry from unfair exporting of under-valued products.
India has been a pioneer in the commercial use of wind energy in Asia since the 1990s. In 2009, India had the fifth largest installed wind capacity globally, only behind the United States, China, Germany, and Spain. During that year, India added 1,338 MW of wind capacity for a total installed capacity of 10,925 MW. This represented a 14% annual growth rate and contributed 3.5% to the global wind market. The most recent data available shows that India's wind capacity totalled 12,009 MW at the end of June 2010, which represented 70% of India's total renewable energy capacity. India's robust domestic market has transformed the Indian wind industry into a significant global player.
The success of the Indian wind market can be attributed to the quality of the wind resource and to government incentives, which became available early on as the global wind industry began to grow. Today, India has established and proven wind turbine technology and is a leading major manufacturing hub. Currently, seventeen manufacturers have an annual production capacity of 7,500 MW. According to the World Institute of Sustainable Energy (WISE), the annual wind turbine manufacturing capacity in India is likely to exceed 17,000 MW by 2013.
In state-wise installation, Tamil Nadu ranks the highest both in terms of installed capacity and in terms of energy generation from wind, with shares of 41.8% and 53.4% respectively. Other states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan have seen significant growth in wind capacity over the last four to five years, also due to a stable policy and regulatory regime.
Currently, 18 of the 25 State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) have issued feed-in tariffs for wind power. Around 17 SERCs have also specified statewide Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPOs). Both of these measures have helped to create long-term policy certainty and investor confidence, which have had a positive impact on the wind energy capacity additions in those states.
With the introduction of the Direct Tax Code2, the government aims to modernize existing income tax laws. Starting from the fiscal year 2011-12, accelerated depreciation, the key instrument for boosting wind power development in India, is no longer be available.
Another limitation to wind power growth in India is inadequate grid infrastructure, especially in those states with significant wind potential, which are already struggling to integrate the large amounts of wind electricity produced. As a result, the distribution utilities are hesitant to accept more wind power. This makes it imperative for CERC and SERCs to take immediate steps toward improved power evacuation system planning and providing better interface between regional grids. The announcement of India's Smart Grid Task Force by the Ministry of Power is a welcome first step in this direction.
After exploiting considerable onshore potential, India is now eyeing for offshore wind market. The country has a long coastline and relatively low construction costs which could make it a favoured destination for offshore wind power.
To examine the feasibility of offshore wind farms in India, C-WET conducted the first phase of its study at Dhanushkodi in the State of Tamil Nadu. So far, the area around Dhanushkodi has shown good potential, where wind power density of 350-500 Watt per square metre (w/m2) has been recorded. For the next stage, C-WET is currently awaiting approval from various government agencies. Based on a study carried out by WISE on the clearances required for offshore projects, it is understood that more than 20 central and state ministries and departments would need to be involved in the process. As this technology is in its nascent stage in India there is a need for specific policy framework for offshore wind power generation.
On the corporate side, there have been a few early moves on offshore wind in India like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Tata Power who have announed their plans to tap offshore wind power.
The small hydro sector is a class of hydro power projects that has a capacity of upto 25 MW. This sectorwas quite dynamic in 2010 and added about 200 MW capacity and grew at 16 per cent. Against a potential of 15,000 MW (Source: MNRE) for small hydro, as of March 2010, a total of 2,735 MW of grid-connected small hydropower has been installed, contributing about 16.2% to India's total grid interactive renewable power. Among which, 151 projects, totaling 241.27 MW, have been implemented and another 53 projects, totaling 58.05 MW, were under execution. Himachal Pradesh leads the total potential with about 2,200 MW followed by Uttarakhand at about 1,600 MW, Jammu and Kashmir at about 1,400 MW and Arunachal Pradesh at about 1,300 MW. The goal for the next 10 years is to harness half of the 15 GW of identified potential. MNRE has developed a special financial incentives package for onand off-grid small hydropower in northeast India. Small hydropower has a capital cost of about Rs 50-60 million (US $1-1.2 million) per MW, which is slightly higher than wind, and a levelized energy cost of about Rs 1.50-2.50 (US $0.03-0.05) per kWh, which is the lowest among renewable energy technologies in India.
Small hydropower equipment has been undergoing steady improvement in efficiency and reliability. This is primarily because of a shift from mechanical to automated electronic control systems and grid integration. Further improvements include remote operating projects and utilization of automatic data collection systems to allow remote monitoring of system performance. The technological trend is to continue to improve reliability and reduce capital cost while increasing efficiency. Logistical and civil construction processes need to be redesigned to reduce installation time. Advancements can also be made in sediment management to reduce silting of equipment. The India's leading PSU, BHEL is a key player in this sector with over 20% of the total installed capacity.
In 2010, the Indian government clearly recognizing the role that renewable energy can play in reducing dependence on fossil fuels and combating climate change, and introduced a tax of Rs 50 (US $1.0) on every metric ton of coal produced or imported into India. This money will be used to contribute to a new Clean Energy Fund. In addition, the MNRE announced its intention to establish a Green Bank by leveraging the Rs 25 billion (EUR 400 million / US $500 million) expected to be raised through the national Clean Energy Fund annually. The new entity would likely work in tandem with the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA), a government-owned non-banking financial company.
In keeping with the recommendations of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) the MNRE and the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) have evolved a framework for implementation of the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) Mechanism for India. This is likely to give renewable energy development a further push in the coming years, as it will enable those states that do not meet their RPOs through renewable energy installations to fill the gap through purchasing RECs.
Through these initiatives, the government has assured the market to RE developers. The next step towards development of RE is to seek high-end technology in RE generation from developed countries and harnessing the huge solar potential of India. Though the path may be difficult in the initial stages, with the full support of the government, the development of a 'green India' would certainly turn out to be true.