Interview with Dr F. Abdullah

“Renewable power is the future of the energy sector”

We bring you an interview with Dr Farooq Abdullah, Former Minister for New and Renewable Energyfrom our 2012 archives

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has played a significant role in promoting renewable energy development. Incentives like accelerated depreciation and programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) have given a fillip to the wind and solar industries. Further, in order to boost biomass-based power generation, the MNRE is preparing a National Bio-EnergyProgramme that will be launched in the Twelfth Plan. In an exclusive interview with Renewable Watch, Dr Farooq Abdullah, minister for new and renewable energy, spoke about the progress across renewable energy segments, international cooperation and the MNRE’s future plans. Excerpts…

What were the major achievements of the MNRE in the past one year?

The renewable energy sector witnessed historic growth in 2011. Besides, several new initiatives were taken. The wind energy segment gained momentum by adding over 2,300 MW of capacity. This resulted in the grid-connected renewable power capacity crossing the 20,000 MW mark. Also, the grid-connected solar power capacity surpassed 100 MW. In fact, solar photovoltaic (PV) plants aggregating over 140 MW were set up in the country. Also, over 1,500 remote villages were electrified through renewable energy systems and more than 50 MW of off-grid installations were commissioned. Another key initiative of the MNRE was the launch of a comprehensive project to promote the use of renewable energy systems and minimise diesel use in the Ladakh region.

What are your key priorities as the minister of new and renewable energy?

At present, renewable energy has a share of about 11 per cent in the country’s total installed generation capacity. However, its contribution to the energy mix is only 5-6 per cent. This should be increased to at least 10 per cent in the next five-seven years through technological innovation and the introduction of state-of-the-art technologies. While this is one area of focus, I would also like high priority to be given to the quality and reliability of renewable energy systems for rural areas and to provide energy access to all. Renewable energy systems are most suitable for rural and remote areas, where grid power is not available.

What are some of the recent initiatives that have been taken by the ministry?

The JNNSM has been one of the most important initiatives of the MNRE. A similar mission – the National Bio-EnergyProgramme – is currently being prepared. We have succeeded in introducing the generation-based incentive (GBI) scheme for wind power projects as well as a solar-specific renewable purchase obligation (RPO) mechanism. We have sanctioned more than 50 off-grid projects for home and street lighting, irrigation pumps and water heating. We have prepared a comprehensive research and development (R&D) programme to address all critical technology issues. Five centres of excellence have been set up to undertake advanced research in the renewable energy space. Our Ladakh Renewable Energy Initiative project would pave the way for the large-scale use of renewable energy in remote and cold regions of the country.

What have been the key trends in the Indian renewable energy sector over the past year?

The single biggest trend in 2011 was the steep decline in the per unit cost of grid-connected solar power. The reverse bidding process also witnessed a more than 30 per cent decline in solar power tariffs. Moreover, entrepreneurs as well as large organisations are showing interest in setting up grid-connected renewable energy projects. Renewable energy projects are now seen as techno-economically viable, and several financial institutions and banks are prepared to finance them.

Are you satisfied with the progress of renewable energy schemes and programmes, especially the JNNSM and the GBI?

I am satisfied with the progress of the JNNSM. There has been a positive response from all stakeholders. The entire targeted capacity under Phase I (grid connected) has been allotted. About 140 MW of projects have already been completed and I am quite certain that the Phase I target of the mission would be achieved before schedule. We are on track in the R&D, personnel training and off-grid segments as well.

What is the expected renewable energy capacity addition during the Eleventh Plan period?

We are expecting a capacity addition of over 12,000 MW from renewables during the Eleventh Plan period. This represents a growth of 110 per cent over the previous plan period and is more than the cumulative renewable energy capacity achieved till the beginning of the current plan.

What are the proposed targets for the Twelfth Plan? What are the likely impediments in achieving these targets and how does the MNRE propose to address them?

The MNRE has undertaken an intensive exercise to review its programmes through various working groups that have been set up for preparing the Twelfth Plan. We are envisaging a capacity addition of about 30,000 MW during the Twelfth Plan period. Wind power is expected to account for about 15,000 MW of this, while 10,000 MW would be added by solar power projects. The subgroups have identified areas that would require the MNRE’s specific attention. I am confident that these issues would be suitably addressed for achieving the targets.

What has been the country’s experience in international cooperation on the renewable energy front? What are some of the key international cooperation deals signed by the MNRE during the past one year?

Considering the vast scope of renewable energy and the size of our current programmes, several countries have expressed interest in cooperating in the Indian renewable energy sector. We want that the benefits of our experience should be shared with other nations so that they are able to meet their energy needs in an environment-friendly manner. In particular, we have been active in capacity building, training and resource assessment in several African, Asian and Central American countries. We continue to play an active and constructive role in the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Is the country on track to meet the National Action Plan on Climate Change target of 15 per cent renewable power in the country’s energy mix by 2020? What are the key challenges in this regard?

Fifteen per cent contribution of renewable energy in the energy mix seems to be a fairly ambitious target. Renewable energy sources have the inherent limitation of intermittency, and generation from these sources depends on the location and availability of the resource (wind, solar, etc.). Technological improvements in the near future are expected to improve the per MW electricity generation from each renewable energy technology.

What steps can be taken to increase investments and the equipment manufacturing capacity in the alternative energy sector?

The current policy initiatives are suitable for attracting investments in the renewable energy sector. RPOs, renewable energy certificates and the GBI would be the key drivers for attracting investments in the sector. With more projects coming up, manufacturing capacities would be strengthened according to the requirements. We are committed to providing supportive policies and extending all possible help to drive sector growth. We are open to any suggestions in this regard.

What plans does the MNRE have regarding the promotion of off-grid projects in the country?

I want renewable energy systems to reach every individual and natural energy-based systems to play a significant role in the country’s development. I want that at least one renewable energy system is used in every house. Implementation and availability of off-grid renewable systems would see a new dimension in the Twelfth Plan.

What is your outlook for the renewable energy sector in the country?

Renewable power is the future of the energy sector and is key to sustainable development. It has to be an essential component of the energy mix of any country.

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