A renewed thrust for solar? – What to expect from a Congress-led government

The election season in India is drawing to a conclusion. Most observers agree that while the overall performance of the UPA-II government has been checkered at best, one area where it has had some degree of success, is solar. The party manifesto takes credit for launching the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (‘NSM’) and aims to lead a renewed push for renewables. Although unlikely as per most political observers, if the Congress was to lead a government for the third term, we would expect it to play a crucial role in helping transform India’s energy future.

  • The Congress wants to accelerate the implementation of the NSM target of 20 GW ahead of the 2022 deadline. The manifesto promises ‘a new thrust to new and renewable energy, including hydel, solar and nuclear energy’.
  • The manifesto can be said to lack the ambition and vision needed to make India a solar leader
  • The Congress could leverage its focus on the common man to accelerate the spread of distributed generation – but has so far not done so.

The Congress can credit itself with ushering in the solar revolution in India – at least at the national level. When the UPA-II government came to power in 2009, the installed solar capacity in India was less than 10 MW, today we are in the region of 2,300 MW. (It should be noted that nearly 40% of installed solar PV capacity in India (around 850 MW) is in Gujarat, a BJP bastion and a model state for solar energy.)

One of the key problems with NSM has been the lack of coordination between the MNRE and state governments. Renewable Purchase Obligations (‘RPOs’) have not been enforced in the manner they should have and the Renewable Energy Certificate (‘REC’) mechanism was pretty much dead on arrival.

Would the Congress be able to tackle the shortcomings and build on its achievements, if it comes back to power? Though solar finds a prominent mention in the party’s election manifesto, the language remains vague. Accelerated implementation of the NSM target is good. But how will it be done? And is it enough? The Congress could think further. In fact, sources indicate that the PMO has been considering revising targets to 100 GW of solar by 2027.

The party’s focus on social empowerment programs and Below Poverty Line (‘BPL’) families/ farmers could lead to an enhanced focus on distributed generation through decentralized solar, solar pumps, micro-grids etc. The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, a flagship Congress program, is focused on electrification in remote villages and solar plays a key part in the scheme. Further, the Congress-led UPA-II did create SECI, with a stronger focus on rooftop solar solutions. So far, however, the government has not been ambitious enough to transform India’s energy story. SECI just allocated just 25 MW in the last and a mere 50 MW this year to rooftop solar projects. The target should to be at least 10 times as much. Kerala, a Congress ruled state, has shown the way by implementing the ambitious 10,000 solar rooftop scheme.

All in all, even though the Congress has tried its best to introduce schemes, it has lacked motivation to implement them successfully or achieve ambitious targets. If it comes back to power, the Congress will have to do a lot more than just ensure accelerated implementation of the NSM. It will need to recognize the importance of solar in the context of India’s energy security and drive and manage a complex and vast transformation of the energy future. This is a tall bill – but it would be a worthy political project.

Karan Raj Chaudri is ‘Manager- Consulting’ at BRIDGE TO INDIA.

1 comment

  • Nothing much to celebrate for congress on solar. 3GW in three years is nothing compared to growth in some other countries.

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