India recently grabbed international headlines as a series of power grid failures left roughly half the country’s population – living in 20 out of 28 Indian states – without electricity.
As the Ministry of Power struggled to find a quick fix, the nation clamoured for answers. The blame is settling on certain states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan which, according to a report by the National Load Dispatch Center (NLDC), have been overdrawing power from the grid.
Power demand in India is continually on the rise, yet the central power infrastructure is spotty and unstable.
Certainly, the situation will improve if we can avoid overburdening the grid by implementing smart grids and timely load shedding. But this is only a fragile solution for immediate problems. It is not in the best interests of the country to rely on outdated infrastructure and its erratic supply of power from the central grid.
Power demand in India is continually on the rise, yet the central power infrastructure is spotty and unstable. The incidents this past summer have proven the grid is overburdened and ill-equipped to handle the increasing demand with its limited supply. Meanwhile, coal imports are increasing due to a shortage of domestic supply, oil prices have risen by more than 40 percent this year, and India still has 400 million people who are not grid-connected.
We need to solve our energy predicament at a fundamental level, and that means tapping into renewables sources of energy to overcome India’s structural power challenges. Solar can provide a decentralized power supply, which helps increase supply security. And it has become an increasingly attractive and stable option. It is plentiful, locally available, can be harnessed by small plants in remote locations. And of course, technology advancements have made solar panels increasingly economical.
Sengupta: “Solar can provide a decentralized power supply, which helps increase supply security. And it has become an increasingly attractive and stable option. It is plentiful, locally available, can be harnessed by small plants in remote locations.”
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) recognizes the promise of renewables, and has already incentivised wind, solar, small hydro powers and bio energy through various schemes. Among its most prominent is the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), which aims to add 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 in the country.
Certainly, the sun does not always shine uniformly one day to the next, nor can its availability be controlled manually. Solar’s ongoing challenge is 24-hour availability, which will come as the industry continues to develop storage solutions. In the meantime, local solar solutions can complement grid power and provide a cost-effective backup to diesel power. Indeed, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for solar without storage is approximately 5 to 8 rupees (USD 10 – 15 cents) while the LCOE of diesel is 13 rupees (USD 24 cents).
Let’s reverse the trend towards increasing centralization that we have seen in the last 20 years. Innovative decentralised solutions are already being implemented by several organizations such as Simpa networks. They deploy a “pay as you use” method to provide solar PV solutions to rural, unelectrified households. Should such initiatives gather momentum, the result will be a cheaper, more stable and flexible power supply for India.
Let’s only hope that such a future will come about as a result of proactive government and private sector planning, rather than come from a reactive, mad scramble to fix widespread power outages.