Interview with A.B. Basavaraju

“Karnataka ranks first in terms of installed renewable energy capacity”

The abundance of renewable energy sources including wind, hydro and solar, and enabling government policies have made Karnataka the leading renewable energy state in India. The state is likely to maintain this lead as huge renewable energy capacity additions are underway, especially the 2,000 MW Pavagada solar park. In an interview with Renewable Watch, A.B. Basavaraju, managing director, Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited (KREDL) speaks about various achievements of the state as well as upcoming initiatives. Excerpts…

What have been the major renewable energy highlights for Karnataka over the past year? Where does the state stand in terms of renewable capacity?

Karnataka is among the country’s top five renewable energy-rich states, having an estimated potential of 86,792 MW. The total installed electricity generating capacity in the state is 26,948.5 MW, of which 12,325.12 MW is from renewable sources. Karnataka ranks first in terms of its installed renewable energy capacity. The state is also a leader in terms of its solar capacity with 5,084 MW installed as on October 2018.

In the wind segment, 882.3 MW of new capacity was added in 2016-17 against a target of 425 MW. A total of 875 MW of wind power projects were undertaken during 2017-18. The wind power target for 2018-19 is 475 MW. KREDL, on its own, is also installing 12.6 MW of wind power projects in Belgavi and Ballary districts.

What are some of the ongoing initiatives for renewable energy development in Karnataka?

Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Limited (KSPDCL), a joint venture between the Solar Energy Corporation of India and KREDL, is developing a 2,000 MW ultra mega solar park in Pavagada. This unique project is one of the largest such solar parks in the world, and will generate 2,000 MW of solar power in a single cluster of 13,000 acres of land. The land has been obtained on an annual lease basis with the consent of farmers in five villages in Pavagada Taluk of Tumakuru district. This solar park has led to the creation of large employment opportunities for local people. Of the total 2,000 MW capacity of this solar park, projects of 600 MW have already been commissioned.

As per the Solar Policy 2014-21, the Karnataka government introduced a scheme to generate power from rooftop solar plants. To this end, 130 MW of rooftop solar capacity has been commissioned as of March 2018, against a target of 400 MW. Apart from this, 601 Atalji Jana Snehi Kendras across the state have been provided with 2 kWp solar rooftop plants with a battery back-up. In Mysore, 126 kWp of rooftop solar capacity has been commissioned on government buildings and parks.

How does the state plan to broaden its renewable base (apart from solar)? Is it planning to conduct an auction for wind power projects as well?

Due to the over-achievement of non-solar renewable purchase obligations by the state discoms, the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) has withdrawn project allocation for wind through feed-in-tariffs (FiTs). It has directed discoms to purchase power only through competitive bidding for wind projects in the future.

What is your outlook on renewable energy tariff trends in the state?

Karnataka has been building its wind energy capacity steadily over the past ten years. It ultimately moved ahead of Tamil Nadu in terms of the total installed renewable energy capacity when it rapidly scaled up in 2017-18, adding more than 5,242 MW of new solar capacity. Currently, the state has 5,242 MW of solar capacity and 4,737 MW of wind capacity.

Consequent to the withdrawal of power purchase agreements through FiTs, at present, there is no generic tariff for renewable energy sources in Karnataka. However, KERC has fixed a benchmark tariff for all renewable sources. It should be noted that in recent solar tenders in the state, record low bids of Rs 2.89-Rs 3.06 per kWh were discovered.

Karnataka has introduced a specific policy for EVs. What are the major milestones planned for this segment?

The Karnataka government intends to make Bengaluru the EV (electric vehicle) capital of India. The Karnataka Electric Vehicle and Energy Storage Policy, 2017 was formulated to enable the growth of electric mobility. In order to promote the adoption of EVs, the state government has exempted taxes on all electric transport and non-transport vehicles including e-rickshaws and e-carts. Under the scheme, auto rickshaws, cab aggregators, corporate fleets and school buses or vans are being encouraged to move towards EVs with an intention to achieve 100 per cent electric mobility by 2030.

The state transport corporations are planning to introduce 1,000 EV buses during the policy period. As a pilot project, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation will introduce “EV Vaayu Vajra” services in select routes to Kempegowda International Airport by the end of 2018. Since batteries contribute a substantial part of the total cost of EVs, the state government will offer incentives to encourage manufacturing of modular design lithium-ion batteries. The state government will develop the charging infrastructure as a commercially viable business venture that attracts private investment. Charging infrastructure for personal vehicles of government employees would be made available in all government buildings across the state.

What steps have been taken to promote open access and third-party sale for projects in the state? What are the key challenges for such projects?

There are a number of issues with open access projects at present. A major bottleneck is the imposition of cross-subsidy surcharge or wheeling charge for open access on renewable energy generators. Added to this, the state discoms do not allow any reduction in contract demand to the extent of renewable capacity. In fact, customers are penalised for the utilisation of below 70 per cent of the maximum demand. Another serious problem posed by renewable energy open access projects is that of increasing grid variability, which could be mitigated through battery back-up, provided it becomes economically viable.

How is the state promoting the uptake of offgrid renewable energy systems?

The state government is providing annual funds for the implementation of the solar irrigation programme. Utilising these funds and the Central Finance Assistance from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), tenders are being invited to promote solar pumps in the state. The MNRE has sanctioned 5,225 solar water pumping systems to the state. Of these, 2,769 solar pumps were commissioned by the end of the programme in December 2016.

Further, the MNRE has sanctioned 3,000 solar pumps, of which 1,019 were commissioned as of March 2018, with the rest in progress. Apart from this, 29,041 solar LED lanterns have been distributed in remote hilly regions of the state where the grid is not available.

What is your outlook for renewable energy in the state and in the country?

In its ongoing efforts toward capacity building, the state government is encouraging private entrepreneurs to invest in renewable energy projects in the state. Efforts are being made to exploit the huge renewable energy potential in the state. On the policy and regulatory front, the state government is working towards the promotion of open access and introduction of a wind-solar hybrid development policy. Renewables will, therefore, help Karnataka in moving from being a net importer of electricity to a net exporter.

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