KERALA: SOLAR COMMISSON REPORT

by K Vijayachandran

SOLAR SCAM: VIEW FROM A GLOBAL WINDOW

This blog was crafted four years ago in August 2013, when Justice Sivarajan took aver as Solar Commission. Sarita, a young woman entrepreneur had ventured into the business of promoting the highly subsidized solar power program of Central Government, using German equipment and systems. For our vastly under-developed local media it was a god-sent incentive for weaving sexy stories.

Sarita was harassed and mentally tortured under the cover of a judicial commission. In sharp contrast to the ongoing actress abduction case, no feminist turned up in defence of this woman entrepreneur. And, nobody is concerned about how society was benefited by this judicial enquiry lasting around fifty long months and costing some 50 million Rupees. Has Kerala society gone sick, far beyond redemption?

 

Einstein was awarded Nobel Prize in 1921, for his discovery of the law on photoelectric effects. But, practical photo-voltaic devices were developed and used, much earlier by German scientists, even by the end of nineteenth century. None of these great scientists could have imagined that their inventions would lead to such novel scandals and highly imaginative agitations, in the god’s own country like ours.

The first photo-voltaic device, I personally handled, was a simple photometer manufactured in East Germany for use in conjunction with a Flexaret box camera, made in socialist Czechoslovakia. Even an unskilled photographer like me could produce good quality photographs, using these simple devices. That was in the early sixties: During the past half century, there were dramatic changes in politics as well as science and technology, including the technology of image capturing as well as photo voltaic devices.

Photo films have disappeared and film cameras replaced by digital cameras that produce cheap high quality images even without the help of light meters. And, photo-voltaic industry, targeted at electricity generation was growing leaps and bounds during the last two decades, thanks to the Kyoto protocol for containing the so-called global warming, by limiting the use of fossil fuels like coal and oil.

With the developed countries, as a block, refusing to honor their commitment to reduce carbon emissions, Kyoto protocol died a premature death: USA played its Nuclear card, and now European Union led by Germany is playing the Solar card, for substituting fossil fuel electricity: Developing countries like India, who do not have technology alternatives of their own, seem to be helplessly falling in line with the developed countries. Power sector working group for India’s twelfth five year plan has recommended a capacity addition of 20,000 MW each by way of Nuclear and Solar electricity, using equipment and systems, imported from developed countries.

India has signed its nuclear deal with USA for opening up its market for imported nuclear power plants, while its own nuclear power development program is left to stagnate due to funds constraints. And, Indian Prime Minister, on his recent visit to Germany, has contracted a loan of Rs.7, 000 Crore for importing Solar-PV equipment from that country: Germany has been investing heavily in Solar related R&D, during the past decade as part of a national discipline, and presently it accounts for 47 percent of the output of global Solar PV industry. Under-performance of the highly capital intensive Solar-PV sector as a whole is alleged to be the major reason for the current Euro-zone financial crisis.

Despite such difficulties and dissent notes by US energy industry, European Union is going ahead with its Solar-PV program led by Germany. A massive international event is planed in Paris, under the banner of 28th European Photo-voltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition, is scheduled for 30th September to 02 October: Over 4000 delegates from 76 countries and 656 research institutions and industries had participated in the 27th conference held in Munich, last year.

With its less than one percent share in the global solar-PV industry, India was nowhere in the picture: China had an eight percent share and is placed above USA (5%), Netherlands (4%), France (3%), Switzerland (3%), Italy (3%) or Japan (2%). This was in tune with my own personal assessment, when I visited a similar show, about three years ago in Noida, organized by the Ministry of New and Renewable Sources of Energy (MNRSE).

Solar PV industry in India, dominated by the MSME sector, had deliberated at that time on what need to be done in order to improve the national capabilities in Solar-PV sector: Its recommendations are valid even today. The theme paper, prepared at that time, had stressed the need for evolving a “comprehensive research roadmap, in collaboration with Indian universities and national labs, with clearly defined, time bound, technology and cost goals.” These recommendations were aimed at “creating a plan to develop and strengthen the entire Solar-PV supply chain, from silicon feedstock, wafer manufacturing, materials and equipment to end systems”.

Nothing much has happened by way of in-house R&D and technology development, and India’s Solar-PV program continues to be dependent on imported equipment and systems, even today. Nehru was great proponent of technological self-reliance, a policy that had paid rich dividends for the country, as in sectors like nuclear and space technologies. However, programs and projects launched by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission as well as the other numerous agencies and public sector undertakings organized under MNRSE, are apparently dedicated to solar power development based on the strength of imported equipment and systems.

Solar PV Value Chain diagram, given elsewhere in this article, is a quote from a well produced recent hand-out, titled India Solar PV Report by Energy Alternative India (EAI-www.eai.in), a professional consultancy body financed by Indian big business and manned by experts drawn from the alumni of IIT’s and IIMs. This document just does not talk about any Indian R&D program on Solar-PV, unlike the industry document, brought out a few years ago.

Perspectives and prescriptions in this EAI document are seen reflected in the programs sponsored by Central and State Government organizations. Even the programs of Solar Energy Corporation of India, the Central Public Sector Unit, recently constituted with Dr. Anil Kakodkar, the former (retired) Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, are no different with regards to its commitments and loyalty to imported technologies and equipment.

Based on its own interpretation of Electricity Act 2003, MNRES is insisting that power utilities in the country should be brought under legal compulsion to source certain minimum percentage of electricity sold by them from the so called ecofriendly solar power plants, even at higher prices, and even on a cost plus basis, in support of the infant Solar-PV industry and on moral considerations around global warming. German policy experts, who dominate the EU policy making process, argue that these apparent subsidies will disappear within fifteen to twenty years time, when Solar-VP will break even with conventional electricity.

Such policies are naturally welcomed by German industry and their R&D but are not convincing enough for the people of other countries of EU. The ongoing recession and consequent fall in demand are further complicating the economics of power utilities in Spain and Italy: The low cost non-solar power plants are, reportedly, facing irrational shutdowns in these countries..

Policy makers of our MNRES are insisting that similar policies as in EU should be implemented in India as well, in support of the Solar-PV industry. In Europe and Germany, possibly, there is some logic for such policies, because the subsidies go to the local industry. But in our case, we will be subsidizing the Solar-PV industry of Germany, USA or China, because we do not have any national R&D plan to develop our own industry. MNRES is insisting that the EU policy of compulsory buying of energy at higher costs from solar power plants should be implemented, irrespective of the source of technology and equipment.

State level agencies, like the ANERT in Kerala, operate under the supervision and dictates of central ministry. ANERT was an autonomous body directly under electricity department, and it was brought under the control of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) very recently. Delhi was planning to implement, jointly with ANERT, an online Solar-PV power plant of one MW capacity, at Kanchikodu and KSEB is under legal compulsion to purchase energy from this plant, at a prefixed price of around Rs.15 per unit, according to the current norms laid down by MNRES. It, sure, was an attractive proposal and a gold mine for a rural investor holding some stock of black money for paying bribes.

True, Sarita, Shalu, Biju & Co have jumped in to the deal and dirtied the entire solar program with all sorts of scandals and pay-offs, as alleged by the Opposition Leader and fully endorsed by the Chief Minister. However, neither of them seems to be aware of the larger issues involved, and the real issues of governance that affect the life and development of our people.

EOD/28-08-2013

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