gfiles magazine

August 16, 2011

BIG BOSS - secretary, ministry of new and renewable energy | deepak gupta

‘The Solar Mission targets 20 million households by 2022’

BELONGING to the 1974 batch and the Jharkhand cadre of the IAS, Deepak Gupta is a post-graduate in history from St Stephen’s College and an MPhil in international relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He also received a Master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School, Harvard University, in 1992 as a Mason Fellow.
He has worked in different areas at the Central and State levels, including being deputed to the India Trade Centre, Brussels, as Adviser (Jute and Coir) in the 1980s. He also served as Adviser with the World Health Organisation in Delhi in 2004. He has been Secretary in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy since 2008.

interviewed by ANIL TYAGI

gfiles: How can you make the common man understand that his life can benefit from use of new and renewable energy?

Deepak Gupta: Renewable energy has already started touching the life of the common man in many ways. Decentralized and distributed renewable energy systems have the potential to bring about transformational change in people’s lives. There are many examples – use of solar energy for water heating, biogas-based cooking in rural areas, renewable energy-based decentralized systems for lighting in villages. We have already covered thousands of villages. It can be solar or through rice husk-based gasifier systems, as is being done in Bihar.

gfiles: When India talks about new and renewable energy and has plans to shift the prime source of energy, what is the rationale behind it?

DG: Worldwide, there is a surge towards renewable energy and many developed countries have already indicated their plans to meet most of their energy needs through renewable energy by 2050. But the context in India is different. We have a lower average per capital energy consumption than the global level and yet are energy deficient. Hence, all sources of energy have to be developed but we want renewable energy to have an increasingly larger share. But we also have additional drivers – energy security and access concerns. We import more than 80% of our oil and this percentage is increasing. Renewable energy can reduce the requirement of substantial quantities of kerosene for lighting, diesel for power generation, furnace oil for steam in industry, and gas for cooking. We still have to provide lighting to 40% of our population. This now seems possible only with renewable energy.

gfiles: We can generate various types of renewable energy – solar, biomass waste, geothermal, hydro and wind. Which is the focus segment?

DG: We have been making concerted efforts to develop all forms of renewable energy technologies including wind, solar, small hydro, biomass, waste, geothermal, and so on. Whereas a significant increase in wind power deployment has already been achieved, there is a lot of potential yet, especially as technology improves, to exploit low wind conditions. Small hydro and biomass are making steady progress. The potential of the former is somewhat limited but that of the latter can increase substantially if we are able to have dedicated energy plantations of new bamboo and fast-growing tree species. But solar has the maximum potential, as prices will decline, and particularly in its decentralized applications where it will compete with fossil fuels. All are important, but, in the long term, solar will be the key.

‘Solar has the maximum potential, as prices will decline, and in its decentralized applications it will compete with fossil fuels. All are important, but solar will be the key.’

gfiles:What is the government’s plan for the focus segment?

DG: We have announced a very ambitious Solar Mission. It plans to install grid capacity of 20,000 MW by 2022. Plans are on schedule. We hope that about 1,500 MW capacity will be installed by 2013 and about 300 MW by March 2012. We have a target of installing 200 MW off-grid solar. We have already approved about 60 MW-worth projects in the past 15 months. Earlier, we used to do about 1-2 MW per year. We are also targeting the provision of lighting in rural areas through State government programmes and lending by banks. Our target is 20 million households by 2022.

gfiles:How much has India achieved in the production and distribution of new and renewable energy?
DG: Renewable power, excluding hydro, above 25 MW installed capacity has reached over 20,000 MW, which is around 11% of the country’s present electricity installed capacity. This has risen from about 3% in 2003, at a time when conventional power has grown at its fastest. In normative energy terms, its share is around 6% in the electricity mix. In addition, over 8,000 remote villages have been provided basic electricity services through distributed renewable power systems. In an effort to provide clean and efficient cooking energy in the villages, over four million family-size biogas plants have been set up. In addition, solar thermal systems with over four million square metres of collector area have been set up to meet hot water requirements in domestic, institutional and industrial establishments.

gfiles:US President Barack Obama has announced he will spend $150 billion on new and renewable energy and his target is to use the energy in hybrid cars by 2015. Where does India stand in comparison to the US?
DG: At the outset, there is no rationale in comparing Indian programmes with those of the US. In 2009, the US economy was 14 times bigger than India’s, its emissions in absolute terms were four times more than India and in per capital terms each American released around 14 times more CO2 in the atmosphere. Further, the US share for non-hydro renewable energy is only 3%, whereas in India it has already reached over 4%. Notwithstanding this, there is an investment in India of about $4 billion every year which is likely to go on increasing. Government spending on renewable power is also increasing over the years in the form of direct subsidies and fiscal incentives, and also in R&D.

gfiles:The cost of production of renewable energy is very high and it is not within the reach of the aam aadmi. The government is encouraging subsidy for both the user and the producer. Why introduce subsidy in this emerging sector?
DG: The common notion that renewable energy is expensive is a fallacy. If hidden subsidies on conventional energy are considered, renewable energy makes better economic sense in most sectors. IEA data reveal that in 2009 a subsidy of $21.12 billion was provided for the oil, gas and electricity sectors in India. This is equally true, globally. If a level playing field is provided, renewable energy systems are competitive for many applications. The cost of renewable power in most cases is upfront and therefore it appears to be costly but its benefits last many years with very little maintenance costs. Considering the energy markets in the country and affordability, the Government of India has been providing fiscal and financial incentives for both users and producers of renewable energy.

gfiles: In the wind sector, there is a striking gap between installed and generated capacity. It is said that these resources are optimally utilized….
DG: In the past few years, wind-based power has witnessed phenomenal growth and almost all installations are in the five resource-rich States of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan. We are hoping to add 2,000 MW capacity every year. The PUF is increasing with efficiency. More power evacuation infrastructure is also being planned.

gfiles: What kind of innovative policy instruments are available with the Ministry for renewable energy projects?
DG: For transition to a highly efficient economy, utilizing renewable energy is essential. Shifting to a sustainable energy system based on renewable energy will require replacing a complex, entrenched energy system with innovative policy instruments. Key areas where India has already adopted innovative approaches are, enacting policies that overcome institutional and regulatory barriers and continued long term policy and public-funded research support for renewable energy. Various kinds of fiscal incentives, capital subsidies, generation-based incentives, preferential tariffs, renewable purchase obligation and renewable energy certificates are some measures being taken. Further, India has levied a cess of Rs 50 per tonne of coal consumption and is using the money for a National Clean Energy Fund to support clean energy development.

gfiles: Your Ministry is a very technology-savvy Ministry. Do you have a system in place for technical know how or are you just the monitoring agency?
DG: Our Ministry is categorized as a scientific Ministry and its primary focus is to facilitate speedy deployment of new technologies and innovations. To this effect, a series of wide ranging programmes covering research and development, demonstration, extension and commercialization of renewable energy systems is under implementation. Technological improvement is also coming through private investment. Its role is over-arching and monitoring is just a component of its activities.

‘The common notion that renewable energy is expensive is a fallacy. If hidden subsidies on conventional energy are considered, renewable energy is a viable alternative.’

gfiles: Are there any measures which would help mitigate the situation arising from demand for power?
DG: It is essential that we try to maximize generation sources. The prime area is energy efficiency. There would also be many benefits coming from energy conservation which requires a change of mindset (for example, at what temperature should an AC be set – 20 or 25). Everybody should recognize that the large future demand will come from air-conditioning requirements in rapidly increasing commercial and residential buildings because of fast urban growth accompanied with rising incomes and changing lifestyles. Therefore, the Ministry has launched a movement for green buildings and green campuses which would reduce energy demand within a building. The large demand also emanates from use of geysers for hot water in homes, institutions and in industry. Solar water heating is a cost-effective solution and a saturation approach is required. Both these require a change of mindset. Everybody should demand an energy-efficient house which can be designed through solar passive architecture principles and use of energy- saving materials and construction technologies. All the richer people and commercial establishments must install solar water heating systems.

gfiles: Can other Ministries contribute?

DG: There is a lot which other Ministries can do, provided they do not treat it as a peripheral activity. Renewable energy can be used for lighting and water heating in border outposts by the Army and paramilitary institutions, in small railway stations, in hospitals, academic institutions and hotels. In these institutions, processing of kitchen waste and solar cooking systems are only two possibilities. Use of RE applications in all institutions in rural areas – schools, health centres, banks, police stations and tribal hostels – is needed. Solar stoves for mid-day meals in schools, public anganwadi centres and tribal hostels would save 40% of wood consumption. There is a large number of possibilities in different industrial sectors – food processing, tourism, dairy, pharmaceutical, textiles. It needs to be encouraged by the Ministries and the concerned industry associations. And all, of course, must have green buildings and green campuses.

gfiles: What can the Collectors do?

DG: As much as 40% of rural India does not get power at all or the supply is uncertain. Therefore, renewable energy is necessary. Technology is available. Finding entrepreneurs and helping rural banks to finance projects is an area where Collectors can contribute substantially.