In India, electricity transition had a promising beginning. Reduction in cost of solar and wind energy generation equipment, cheap financing and convenient policy environment were the major reasons for such a changeover. And now, solar energy, one of the best forms of renewable energy, has taken centre stage in the country. Significant development of energy infrastructure needed to meet our economic goals is the driving force behind it. The government, in 2016, set a target to achieve 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by financial year 2021/22 and 275 GW by financial year 2026/27. This was done to promote use of low-cost, low-emission and reliable system as opposed to expensive, polluting and unreliable fossil-fuel based structures.
Battling a plethora of policy and project execution issues, India’s utility-scale solar park model has succeeded in gaining a strong foothold in the renewable energy sector. Solar parks are large-scale photovoltaic systems (PV systems), usually with a capacity more than 1000 MW, that are designed to supply merchant power into the electricity grid. They are different from most building-mounted decentrilized solar power structures due to their unique character of distributing power at the utility level, rather than to local users. The power source is through photovoltaic modules that convert light to electricity. For a variety of reasons, photovoltaic technology has seen much wider usage than other forms of solar power generation. In the last few years, PV technology has reduced the installation cost per watt and its energy payback time (EPBT), and also improved electricity generating efficiency. Progressively, it is becoming a viable source of mainstream power.
India’s Ultra-Mega Solar Parks
India has been a pioneer in promoting the idea of ultra-mega power plant (UMPP) in a single solar park of industrial use. Initially, in 2016, the country’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy set an impressive target of 40 industrial parks with a combined capacity of 20 GW. And spectacularly enough, the target was doubled to 40 GW in 2017.
Some of India’s most important solar parks are:
Bhadla Industrial Solar Park: It is situated in the village Bhadla, Jodhpur, Rajasthan. With a capacity of 2245 MW, this solar park is the largest in the world till date. It was commissioned in March 2020. Main sponsors of this park are Rajasthan Solar Park Development Company Ltd, ESSEL, IL&FS, and Adani Power Ltd. Some of the developers include SB Energy SoftBank, Hero Future Technologies, NTPC, ACME Solar Aditya Birla, Vector Green and others. Bhadla has attracted record low solar tariffs in the range of Rs 2.44-2.62/kWh. This is among the lowest tariffs to date in the country.
Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park: It is located in Andhra Pradesh and has a capacity of 1000 MW. It is India’s third largest operational solar power project. It has garnered interest of international capital firms such as SoftBank of Japan in partnership with Foxconn of Taiwan and BHEL. Adani Green Power and Azure Power are its famous Indian investors. Andhra Pradesh Solar Power Corporation (APSPCL) acquired the land leading the development effort. A subsidy of Rs 200,000 per MW to APSPCL was provided by the government to develop the solar park. Sun Edison was awarded the first 500 MW at Rs 4.63/kWh in January 2016 and the rest was distributed among the remaining developers. It was commissioned in March 2017.
Ananthapuramu – I & II Solar Park: It is the largest under construction solar park in Andhra Pradesh. Spread across two villages in the districts of Ananthapuramu and Kadapa, this 1500 MW project will be the largest facility to be built from domestically made solar cells and modules, conforming with the ‘Make in India’ program of the government. About 1000 MW are to be developed by NTPC Limited with the first phase commissioned in 2015. Ananthapuramu – II is set to be built near four villages of the same district totalling a capacity of 500 MW.
Kadapa Solar Park: Situated in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh, the 5928 acre facility is being developed by APSPCL with a capacity of 1000 MW. The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) awarded 750 MW at a competitive price of Rs 3.15/kWh with zero indexation for 25 years in April 2017. This includes the bulk of the plant’s capacity. Remaining 250 MW was won by ENGIE of France’s SolaireDirect. It was commissioned in 2018. About 250 MW capacity are operational and 750 MW under various phases of construction at this solar park.
Pavagada Solar Park: Located in Pavagada taluk, Tumkur district, Karnataka, this solar park covers an area of 53 square kilometres. It was completed in 2019 and has a capacity of 2050 MW. It is the world’s second argest PV power station. It was commissioned in March 2018. Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Ltd is the owner. In 2016, NTPC Limited awarded contracts to 6 firms for the commissioning of a total of 500 MW of power at Pavagada. 100 MW was awarded to Parampujya Solar Energy Pvt. Ltd, ACME Solar Holdings Pvt. Ltd, Tata Power Renewable Energy Ltd and Fortum Finnsurya Energy Pvt. Ltd each. The rest 100 MW was distributed to the remaining two developers at 50 MW each.
Dholera Solar Park: Situated in Gujarat’s Dholera village, this solar park is said to have an expected installed capacity of 5000 MW. It is to be developed in two phases. Gujarat Urja Nigam Limited is incharge of developing the project through public-private partnership. It is working with Gujarat Poer Corporation, Gujarat Electric Transmission Corporation, SECI and Powe Grid Corporation of India. The first investment is Rs 5 billion and the second phase will be completed by SECI with an estimated of Rs 20 billion. This solar park supports the government’s goal to produce 175 GW of clean energy by 2022. The conditional improvement for the first phase was received in February 2019.
India and the International Solar Alliance
The objective of International Solar Alliance (ISA) is ultimate solar power utilization. To work for efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependency on fossil fuels forms the primary agenda of ISA. The launching of this alliance at the Paris Conference had a convincing reason behind. This timely launch showcased that the developing countries are ready to work against use of fossil fuels and climate change same as the developed nations. This alliance displays their determination and willingness to work towards a better future. It is based on world-cooperation.
With the support from developed countries like France, India invited various nations to help support infrastructure for implementation of huge solar projects. The ISA has been committed $1 Trillion as investment and is working for making solar power easily affordable to remote villages and inaccessible areas. This alliance also has the capability to endorse India in achieving its 2022 energy target in addition to providing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. It is also seen as a joint effort on the part of developing countries to help in research for development of large scale solar power projects. This alliance is built on trust within the developing world nations and aims to reach its targets within a desirable time frame. Another possible benefit for India, in addition to creating a safe, renewable and affordable energy resource, is that the country can strengthen its ties with major African and tropical nations so as to create goodwill amongst them.