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Power For All: RIGHT RESOLVE, BUT TOUGH, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 28 June 2017 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 28 June 2017

Power For All


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


The government’s resolve to provide electricity to every household in the country by May next year is well meaning but achieving the target seems rather tough. There are still 300 million people in the country who are starved of electricity, as stated by President Mukherjee recently in Kolkata. And even though the work is moving in the right direction at a steady pace, it may take another year or at least nine more months to accomplish the target. 


At the same time, even this would be a big achievement for the Modi government and the country can claim to enter a new era. However, to receive sustained power supply for at least four hours a day for every household will take longer at least in some regions. Indeed, sustained supply of power is essential as education spreads and so also micro entrepreneurial units which get set up in residential places in the villages.


The emphasis on non-conventional uses of power is well known and the country has moved ahead in generation of solar power. However, there is an ongoing debate whether we should opt for nuclear or solar power. The former was envisaged about a decade back when it was less costly than solar power, but now the situation has changed. With induction of latest technology, solar power is now less costly than N-power. 


During the UPA era, it was stated that nuclear power would cost no more than Rs 2.50 per unit but presently the negotiated tariff at the two new Russian reactors at Kudankulam 3 and 4 is Rs 6.30 per unit. The cost of power of the new reactors of Areva would not be less than Rs 7 per unit.


These rates are much higher than the present pricing of solar power which is a maximum of Rs 3 to Rs 3.50 per unit and, according to experts, may further come down to around Rs 2.50 per unit by the early next year. One may mention here that the 500 MW Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan saw prices drop to Rs 2.44 per unit, well below thermal tariffs or even the average Rs 3.20 per unit rate of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).


A point that needs to be mentioned here is that as solar is dependent on the sun, which is available for say 12 hours or so, intermittency will be a problem when solar generation starts accounting for 15 to 20 per cent of overall supply of power. Thus, we may be some distance away from that. However, many low-cost smart policies and technological improvements can be initiated to improve the grid for tomorrow.  


A report by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy stated that the country increased its capacity for solar energy production by about 5.5 GW between April 2016 and March 2017 against a target of 12 GW. Thus achieving the target of 100 GW by 2022 appears to be too over ambitious.


The solar revolution has yet to take place, notwithstanding the Metro in Kerala, and predictions reveal that after a decade, the situation is expected to improve. Thus, the target for generation of 100 gigawatt of solar power by 2022 may not be achieved. The entire scientific community has been galvanised to accept the challenge and more sincere action by the States is necessary. Moreover, implementation of roof-top solar is taking place at a much slower place and it seems unlikely that the government would achieve its 40 GW target by 2022, as per a report by the PGD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  


Meanwhile, there are reports of the government having approved Rs 70,000 crore nuclear energy generation on capacity and a new transparent policy for fuel supply for thermal power plants. It is understood that India will set up 7000 MW of nuclear capacity with 10 units of indigenous pressurised heavy water reactor technology, according to Power Minister Piyush Goyal. This marks India’s biggest expansion in nuclear power. Currently 6780 MW will be a flagship ‘Make in India’ project. However, as indigenous sources would be marshalled without any foreign tie-up, the results may be encouraging as there are expectations of achieving economies of scale and generation of over 33,000 direct and indirect jobs. 


One has to admit that the development on renewable sources of power has been on the right track and Indian scientists and engineers deserve credit. On the other hand, the technology for coal-based power generation has to be improved so as to cut down costs and use local coal after washing them. Low emission technology of such power plants is needed as we cannot increase our carbon emission any further.    


The renewable era has begun and electricity generation in the villages would be from medium level solar plants that would be cost effective and long lasting. In fact, roof tops over apartments have to be used for solar power generation in a big way that could meet at least 40 to 50 per cent of their power needs.  


The government is in the process of restarting the stalled hydro power projects and increase the wind energy production target to 60 GW by 2022 from the current 20 GW. One cannot deny the fact that the country needs considerable investment to build a reliable and adequate energy supply chain. Resources currently allocated to energy supply may not be sufficient for narrowing the between energy needs and energy availability.


With demand for energy growing at the rate of 8 to 9 per cent against production increasing at around 3 per cent, reaching electricity to the common man at affordable costs is the biggest challenge before the government. India had assured that it would be in a position to meet its non-fossil fuel-based energy target if it got adequate financial and technological support, the chances of which appear somewhat remote with the US exiting from the Paris accord.


Though foreign aid in this direction has been rather insignificant, there has to be constant endeavour to ensure that experimentation has to be carried out in all areas of renewable energy -- not just solar but also nuclear, wind and hydro power -- to ensure economies of scale. Moreover, modernisation of thermal power plants and using indigenous coal without importing it has to be ensured in the not-too-distant future.    


A nation develops when power is available to all of its citizens. As education spreads far and wide and as entrepreneurship develops at the grass-root level, there is need for electricity in all households. It is indeed distressing that though we have completed 70 years of independence, the generation has only picked up only in the last few years.  


Power can empower the nation and thus the endeavour of the government is noteworthy. But the selection of sources needs to be drawn, keeping in view the cost factor. India is a nation where around 55 per cent of the population belong to the poor and the economically weaker sections and they have to be provided electricity at subsidised rates. Nothing short will suffice. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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