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SEMI India bets big on solar power

Posted: 21 Apr 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:India solar market? solar power? photovoltaic industry?

In a report on India's solar energy state, SEMI India said that the country has a great opportunity to get on the global solar photovoltaic (PV) map due to its chronic energy shortage, huge employment potential solar energy harnessing can create, huge import bill on oil and coal and the fact that India is among the few countries in the world to have about 300 days of sunshine yearly.

SEMI India has formed a PV Advisory Committee headed by K. Subramanya, CEO of Tata BP Solar Ltd and comprising of executives from top solar PV manufacturers in the country to push the country's activities on this front. The report comes against the backdrop of India's National Action Plan on Climate Change which had a central role for solar power, being announced by the federal government about a year ago.

The committee recommended that there be close industry-government ties to achieve manufacturing scale, drive common industry standards, goal-oriented research and development efforts, specific financing and subsidies, training and development of manpower and build consumer awareness.

A robust solar PV industry in India would create up to 100,000 new jobs in 10 years and transform the lives of 450 million people in India who even now have no access to electricity. About 50 percent of households in the country are cut off from electricity supply and the oil and coal import bill that makes up as much as 7 percent of India's Gross Domestic Product. These are dramatic enough figures pointing to the potential of solar PV-based power generation and when you add that the country has 300 days of sunshine to harness such power from, the opportunity for solar is abundant and the need, immediate, said Sathya Prasad, president, SEMI India.

Solar boost
India has 9 manufacturers of solar cells and about 20 module manufacturers, but it has no current silicon feedstock or wafer manufacturing and almost all ongoing solar production is crystalline silicon based. Most of the existing manufacturers, including Tata BP Solar target the export market, and new proposals that are now lying with the government for clearance and concessions also appear to be aimed at the export market. These proposals, made by Reliance Industries, Moser-Baer, Signet Solar and others total nearly $20 billion.

The government has with it several new proposals with investments running into billions of dollars for permission to set up manufacturing facilities and requests for concessions under the Semiconductor Policy and Special Incentives Package Scheme announced two years ago. These proposals are now in limbo and are likely to be considered only after a new government is in place, with elections starting later this month.

Neither has the National Mission on Solar Energy apparently made any headway, though industry is counting on it to flesh out the details for boosting manufacture and usage of solar PV-based power in the country. Most industry executives and SEMI India want the Mission to be materialized and made a starting point for goal-setting for India in the solar space, with an emphasis on expanding deployment of solar PV in off-grid applications and prioritizing grid-connected solar PV generation on a large scale.

Having a distinct ministry for new and renewable energy means that the India government is serious about it. There are signs that the issue is being treated seriously with new laboratories and universities taking more interest in it. India has the scope for global technological leadership in this space and that is one more reason why the country must get into solar energy. Promoting solar power will do for India's energy sector what wireless telephony did for the country's telecommunications front, said Madhusudan Atre, president, Applied Materials India Ltd.

According to Tata BP Solar's Subramanya, India's per capital consumption of energy at 700kW hours is below the global average and the cost of conventional power generation will only rise, while the cost of solar power generation can only fall. But important issues such as unique financing cannot but be addressed if solar power has to play a major role.

Banks and lending institutions have (concessional) loans for people to buy buffaloes and goats, and solar must also be treat similarly, he added. India's solar power generation capacity is about 100MW in all, with a much smaller share of total power generated than wind-generated power which incidentally, grew widely due to a range of subsidies and concessions from the government.

- K.C. Krishnadas
Green SupplyLine

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