Solar Energy – JNNSM, Solar Cities, Solar Pumps, etc.

What India should do to get its energy transition right


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CEA

Mains level : Paper 3- Challenges renewable energy faces and solutions

The article analyses the problems renewable energy faces in India and suggests the pathways to overcome these challenges.

India’s commitments and goals

  • India has committed in the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce GHG emissions intensity by 33-35% below 2005 levels.
  • It also committed to achieve 40% of installed electric power capacity from non-fossil sources by 2030.
  • At the UN General Assembly in 2019, we announced a target of 450 GW of renewable energy (RE) by 2030.

Let’s look into CEA study

  • The optimal electricity mix study of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), estimated 430 GW non-hydro renewables (280 GW solar + 140 GW wind + 10 GW bio) by 2030.
  • Study put thermal capacity at 266 GW by 2030.
  • So, it puts the percentage of non-fossil fuel (RE + hydro + nuclear) in installed capacity by 2030 at 64%.
  • Which is much higher than India’s Paris commitment.

Coal contradiction

  • The target for coal production at 1.5 billion tonnes, which was set in 2015, has been reinforced recently to be achieved by 2024.
  • Privatisation of coal mining and recent auctions have given a meaningful thrust to this.
  • Looked at the target set for renewable energy, targets for cola production convey contradictory signals.
  • The targeted coal production of 1.5 billion tonnes, even by 2030, would mean thermal generation capacity could double over the current 223 GW.
  • In that case, even with targeted RE capacity, we will not achieve our emissions intensity Paris commitment.
  • Can a global green champion announce doubling its coal production in five years?

Problems with Renewables

1. Policy Issues

  • Solar deployment has seen policy challenges both from Centre and states, these include-
  • Continuous changes in duty structure.
  • Renegotiation of PPAs.
  • Curtailment of solar power.
  • Extremely delayed payments in some states.
  • Policy flip-flops on open access and net metering.
  • Delays by state agencies and regulators.
  • Land possession difficulties.
  • Transmission roadblocks even in solar parks.

2. Solar cell manufacturing constraints

  • Our capacity for cell manufacture is 3 GW, though workable capacity is actually around 2 GW.
  • Domestically manufactured cells are more expensive and less efficient.
  • There is little upgrade in a rapidly changing world of technology.
  •  90% of cells and 80% modules are imported largely from China or Chinese companies elsewhere.
  • Wafer imports are 100% as we don’t manufacture ingots/wafers.
  • For every GW with an average cost of Rs 5,000 crore in 2019, more than half goes to China.

3. Storage constraints

  •  Hydro pump storage is limited in quantity and there will be an issue of costs.
  • The other project is a solar-wind hybrid with batteries installed after a few years.
  • Neither intends to meet peak power demand or even the baseload.
  • Forecasts suggest lowering of battery costs by 50% by 2030.
  • It makes sense to wait before we go for large-scale storage.

Manufacturing domestically

  • 1) At the least plan to make 5 GW of ingot/wafer manufacturing capacity urgently.
  • We may require electricity supply at about Rs 3 per unit, and dedicated power plants.
  • The risk of technology obsolescence would need to be factored in.
  • Policy, fiscal and financial support prescriptions should aim at creating globally competitive industry.
  • 2) We need to develop batteries suitable for extreme Indian weather conditions but globally benchmarked.
  • This demands a mission approach, getting our best people and institutions together, properly funded and tasked to get a battery out in the next three years.
  • 3) We must also simultaneously launch a hydrogen mission—target heavy vehicle mobility through fuel cells.
  • It may become a solution for RE storage, too.

The issue of supply-demand mismatch

  • In the last two decades, we have been overestimating demand and increasing supply.
  • Our demand projections for 2030 are wildly high.
  • PLF in 2018-19 was 60.30, declining to 56.08 in 2019-20 and hovering around 50% with the Covid-19 impact.
  • Even the latest CEA review of ‘optimal’ mix talks of thermal PLF of 59% in 2030!
  • This is inefficient and costly.
  • Thermal PLF must be taken to over 80%.

The suggested pathways

  • 1. Build thermal capacity as per CEA estimates and quickly. None after 2030. Retire inefficient plants. Plan for miner rehabilitation.
  • 2. Accelerate RE after 2030 with storage. Aim for 10 GW solar and 5 GW wind annually.
  • 3. Develop 5-10 GW ingot/wafer manufacturing capacity urgently and diversify import sources even at some extra cost.
  • 4. Develop a battery for Indian conditions in three years; full battery manufacturing in India in five years.
  • 5. Revisit the manner of solar generation. Prioritise decentralised and solar agriculture.
  • 6. Plan for hydrogen economy with pilot projects and dedicated highways for long and heavy haul traffic.
  • 7. Put a strong energy demand management system into place with much stronger energy efficiency and the conservation movement.

Consider the question “Central Electricity Authority finalised the optimal electricity mix study recently setting the targets for the future. Examine the constraints that expansion of solar energy faces and suggest the pathways to overcome the challenges.”


Embracing the RE will help India economically and strategically. It will also help it achieve its targets in its fight against climate change.

Back2Basics: Central Electricity Authority

  • Central Electricity Authority (CEA) is an organization originally constituted under Section 3(1) of the repealed Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948, since substituted by Section 70 of the Electricity Act, 2003.
  • It was established as a part-time body in 1951 and made a full-time body in 1975.
  • The functions and duties of CEA are delineated under Section 73 of the Electricity Act, 2003

Plant Load Factor (PLF)

  • Plant Load Factor (PLF) is the ratio of average power generated by the plant to the maximum power that could have been generated for a given time period.

Original Op-ed

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