An exclusive interview with Dr Farooq Abdullah, India’s renewable energy minister ahead of the official opening of World Future Energy Summit 2012 in Abu Dhabi tomorrow, highlights the role of renewable energy in India’s economic growth.
Dr. Farooq Abdullah is the Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy in the Government of India. He is best known for his energetic leadership of the pathbreaking and transformational initiative in renewable energy – The Jawahar Lal Nehru National Solar Mission. He is also known for a number of other initiatives in the renewable energy space in India-notably, renewable energy for energy access, the introduction of Generation Based Incentives and the move towards introduction of Renewable Energy Certificates.
How important is renewable energy and clean technologies to emerging markets, such as India?
The challenge facing the world today is to meet its increasingly large energy needs while minimizing the damage to the environment. This is why, while striving to bridge its energy deficit, the world must necessarily increase the share of clean, sustainable, new and renewable energy sources. Therefore, we in India look at Renewable energy and clean technologies as vehicles of sustainable development. We are now at the verge of a second transition as far as renewables are concerned. We have passed through the phase of research, development and small scale deployments and now have an installed base of over 22,000 MW renewable based capacity, which is around 11 per cent of India’s total power generation capacity. We have added over 11 GW capacity in the last 5 years and plan for another 30 GW in the next 5 years.
Is it realistic to expect renewable energy to meet the growing energy needs of these countries in the next 10-15 years?
I am confident that renewable energy is an idea whose time has come. There is an unmistakable shift from the use of conventional energy to renewable sources of energy. While 10 years may be an ambitious time frame to aim for a total transformation, the role of renewables will continue to increase, not only in India but in the entire world. Whether or not renewable energy completely replaces fossil fuel, we must all work together to develop renewable energy to its fullest potential.
What are the initiatives that India is undertaking to promote the growth of this sector?
India is perhaps the only country in the world to have an exclusive ministry devoted to the growth and development of renewable energies. We stand among the top five countries of the world in terms of renewable energy capacity. We have an installed base of over 22 GW, which is around 11 per cent of our total power generation capacity and contributes over 5 per cent in the electricity mix. This represents an almost 400% increase in the past 5 years alone.
Our most recent initiative- The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) envisages a capacity addition of 20,000 MW of grid solar power by 2022. A similar ambitious mission – the National Bio-Energy Mission- aims to tap the over 15 GW bio-energy potential in the country. Our policy framework- Generation Based Incentives for wind power projects, solar specific Renewable Purchase Obligations, tradable Renewable Energy Certificates- is extremely renewable friendly and supportive.
What are the areas where you see renewable energy being an easy replacement for traditional sources?
Renewable energy has already created its space in grid connected power generation. Wind and small hydro are commercially viable options. We are working towards grid –parity in solar. However, what is most amazing is the capacity of decentralized renewable applications to usher in energy access for all including the most disadvantaged and the remotest of our habitations. In its decentralized or standalone version, renewable energy is the most appropriate, scalable and optimal solution for providing power to thousands of remote and hilly villages and hamlets. By providing energy access to be most disadvantaged and remote communities, it becomes one the biggest drivers of inclusive growth.
How does India’s National Solar Mission fare compared to other emerging economies?
The Solar Mission aims at adding 20,000 MW solar power capacity by 2022. The Phase – I of the Mission is now under implementation. In this year alone 186 MW of grid-connected solar power projects have been commissioned and another 300 MW are likely to be commissioned by March 2012. We have succeeded in cutting solar-power costs by allotting projects through a tight international auction process. For instance, in the latest auction, the lowest bid came from Solairedirect SA, a French company at 7.490 a kWh. That’s about 38 percent below the average price in the December auction (Batch-I) and about 30 percent cheaper than the global average for similar projects.
What are the biggest challenges in the growth of renewable energy in India? Do you see these as being unique to India or common challenges to the global community?
Renewable energy has the inherent advantage of greater resource flexibility of a distributed energy system, but is also currently more costly than centralized power. Hence, there is continuous need to innovate to increase efficiencies and bring down costs. The challenge before us in the renewable energy sector, generally and, in India, particularly is to reduce the per-unit cost of renewable energy. Besides the power generated through renewable energy is usually intermittent and sometimes difficult to predict. There are also other challenges like those related to technology and financing. Like many other countries, India too is facing these challenges through encouraging economies of scale, easy transfer of technology and indigenous research and development.
I see the role of governments as active facilitators who will work to create an enabling ecosystem for promoting newer business models, technical as well as market innovations as well as for promoting basic and applied research.
India has an established presence in R&D in industries such as ICT; what contribution will India be making to innovation in the renewables and clean tech industry in the foreseeable future?
India has a strong base in R&D in all areas of renewable energy. We see technology led R&D as a strong area for innovation and growth – for instance – managing the complexity of variable power generation through computer-enabled power networks, or smart grids. The efficiencies of smart grid management coupled with the sustainability of renewable energy could be a win-win combination. India as the leading light of the IT world would have a natural advantage in this.
What are your expectations from your participation at WFES?
The World Future Energy Summit is now a key event in the world sustainable energy calendar. It is an important effort to bring together governments, businesses and thinkers to jointly advance the cause of a cleaner and more sustainable world for all of us. It will provide a unique opportunity for Indian investors, manufacturers and developers to interact with leading lights both from the private and public sectors.
What do you think the Middle East, and in particular Abu Dhabi, offers India in terms of opportunities in renewable energy and energy efficiency?
Renewable Energy is the future of mankind and the key to sustainable development. I am delighted to note that the UAE, despite its abundant hydrocarbon resources, has taken the initiative in promoting renewable energy and in hosting the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). We, in India, see tremendous opportunity in cooperation not only via the medium of IRENA but also at the bilateral level. India shall be happy to leverage its resources to help in capacity building and resource assessment. We have considerable experience in development of large grid-connected projects as well as smaller decentralized energy-access initiatives. We are more than happy to assist in all of these activities.