The urgent policy imperative in the Solar Energy sector is the exploration of a sustainable and optimal growth route-map to achieve technology leadership, as the next challenge, whereas, the initial challenge of acceleration in volumes (installed capacity of solar energy) has already gained equilibrium, albeit a slightly unstable one. This challenge also principally resonates with the topmost and credible research institutions and policy think tanks working in the sustainable energy sector.
Uplifting Bharatiya Economy
Despite a plethora of credible scientific research institutions active in the Solar Energy sector, concerted efforts by the Government to support the Solar Energy sector through direct and specific programmes and associated programmes designed to uplift the Bharatiya economy, industry and businesses, Bharat has remained by-far a follower, rather than a leader, in the space of scientific research and development (R&D) in the extremely technology intensive, exacting and precision-based solar energy sector.
Novel Project To Reap Benefits
The proposed policy response is a novel flagship project idea named NAVA- ĀDITYA, an acronym for National Aggregated Venture Accelerator Assisted Development of Innovative Technology Yielding Assets. The eponymous acronym encapsulates the entire objective statement in itself. Elucidated, it implies the creation of a Union Government-backed USD one billion equity-funded and USD one billion leveraged (at the post proof-of-concept stage) joint venture of pan-Bharat distributed scientific institutions that would work like a venture accelerator and assist in the development of scientific breakthrough technologies by scientist-entrepreneurs in the Solar Energy sector and directly yield Solar Energy assets with significantly higher efficiency across the entire value chain of Solar Energy sector, especially solar cells and PV modules, but not limited to them.
Global Solar Energy Structure
The history of Solar Power is actually the history of scientific supremacy in R&D by competing and rival nations via the agency of the scientists as inventors. In an exceedingly competitive global environment, nations that displayed the ability and willingness to not just invest in scientific breakthroughs but make great efforts to protect their scientific resources and assets stole a head and a shoulder and a march over their archrivals. This universal truth would be further elucidated in the study of this policy paper. This scientific archrivalry has powered the global solar PV installed capacity footprint from 10 GW in 2010 to 750 GW in 2020 and 900 GW in 2021 according to Renewable Energy Network (REN). This massive scale and deployment has been behind the veritable 95 per cent collapse in the price of solar energy, per Watt peak (Wp), over the last couple of decades as per ITPRV 2023 (Figure 1).
In COP-26 in Glasgow, the future of solar energy was further secured well upto 2050 as nations vied to announce ambitious plans to attain the target of “net zero energy”. According to credible estimates by some experts, solar PV installed capacity would be 3,400 GW in 2030 and 20,000 GW in 2050. ITPRV 2023 is even more ambitious and foresees 63,000 GW solar capacity in 2050. This wide divergence in estimates actually demonstrate that the field of scientific R&D is wide open and could possibly be at a juncture where “SunShot” technologies (one that demonstrate significantly higher efficiency are at an experimental stage and not proven to be commercially viable) could alter the technology landscape sooner than expected. This presents a massive opportunity across the long and fragmented value chain of the solar energy sector from scientific development, manufacturing of components, ancillaries, solar cells, solar PV modules, installation and deployment, operations and maintenance, generation, distribution and transmission and development of standards for processes and methods etc.
The key success factor in this highly technology intensive sector is primarily just a unitary variable and a no brainer and one that has so far shown itself to stand out as the ultimate king maker and that variable is scientific R&D. Given supremacy in technology, building massive scales at GW levels would yield commercially viable projects.
Patents Holds the Key
The fundamental lesson of the evolution of the history of solar technology clearly shows that, except one or two exceptions, generally, whichever nation holds the edge on patents has the first mover advantage, designs, develops and controls the supply and value chain which ultimately translates into commensurate tech-leadership driven economic benefits. Bharatiya Solar Energy Structure Prior to 2003, things moved slowly in Nehruvian Socialist India. Year after year there was a lot of talk, confabulations and file-pushing on renewable energy policy, starting 1961 but no credible kinetic action on renewable energy on the ground. The Department of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (DNES) was established on September 6, 1982. Decades passed by in this slow Nehruvian Socialist process in which various disjunct processes were initiated at a snail’s pace, half-heartedly and cosmetically such as the formation of Commission for Additional Sources of Energy (CASE) to manufacture solar cookers in 1981; establishment of Solar Thermal Energy Center (STEC) for R&D in solar thermal technologies, again in 1981. Productive work was done by Central Electronics Limited (CEL) that instituted a programme called National Solar Photovoltaic Energy Demonstration Program (NAPSAD) to rationalise the cost per Watt peak (Wp) of solar PV modules by improvement in the efficiency of silicon solar cells. NAPSAD also conducted R&D in Multi-Crystalline Silicon Solar Cells (MSSC) and Ultra-High-Energy (UHE) solar cells. CEL also manufactured solar PV cells and achieved a capacity of 31.75 kW in 1982. CEL also manufactured solar pumps for irrigation and supply of water, solar PV modules for Indian Antarctica Expedition and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).
Then, in 2003, something fundamentally changed. In 2003, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee introduced the path breaking reforms via the Electricity Act, 2003. The impact was so transformational that its reverberations are felt in the entire sector as well as the entire economy to this day. The novel legislation shook the moribund Bharatiya electricity system plagued by the Nehruvian Socialist legacy of transmission and distribution (T&D) losses, a euphemism for the theft of electricity by the vote banks and crony capitalist friends of Nehruvian Socialists, and pulled the loss-making and debt-ridden state electricity companies out of comatose slumber and transformed them into a thriving economic powerhouse.
The impact of PM AB Vajpayee’s path breaking reforms via the Electricity Act, 2003. was so transformational that its reverberations are felt in the entire economy to this day. The novel legislation shook the moribund Bharatiya electricity system plagued by Nehruvian Socialist legacy of transmission and distribution losses
One of the upshots of the Electricity Act was that the renewable energy sector, a “sunrise sector” in those days, was put on the forefront for the first time ever. Specifically, Section 61 and Section 86 of the Electricity Act were designed to promote the adoption and propagation of renewable energy. Section 61 mandated and obligated the State Electricity Boards (SEBs) to set the tariffs for renewable energy. Section 86 obligated the generation and purchase of a minimum threshold of grid connected renewable energy.
Thanks to the policy and regulatory framework that the Indian Electricity Act, 2003 provided for renewable energy, Bharat developed a competitive Solar Energy industry. The scientific R&D was fairly robust in the 1980s to 2000s in the academic institutes both in the solar PV sector as well as in the associated semiconductor space. Bharat was one of the few countries that manufactured both solar cells as well as modules. Companies like Moser Baer were manufacturing both amorphous silicon as well as multi-crystalline solar PVs. Bharat, therefore, had access to the export markets in USA, Germany and Spain.
Leading From the Front
Gujarat became a visionary State by being the first to implement the Electricity Act 2003 and was also the first State to devise and implement the solar policy in 2009, much before the ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) – the national solar policy released by the Union Government in 2010. Gujarat’s Solar Policy was foresightful and much ahead of its time in providing a very conducive state support system and liberal regularly environment.
Challenge to Implement
It provided for exemption from payment of electricity duty, relaxation from scheduling and forecasting (which remains a technological challenge to this day), authorising Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPOs). RPOs have since become a mainstay and prana of capacity additions in the renewable energy sector. It also mandated “Open-Access” for promotion of private enterprise in the hitherto 100 per cent State regulated electricity sector. It also mandated a very encouraging and high feed-in-tariff (This was the international standard back in the day, especially in China.) But being a democracy, this would have been politically challenging to implement in Bharat and therefore needed political will (of which there seemed to be an abundance in the State leadership of Gujarat) to promote renewable energy at a time when it wasn’t commercially viable and depended financially completely on state support.
Gujarat became a visionary State by being the first to implement the Electricity Act 2003 and was also the first State to devise and implement the solar policy in 2009
Renewable energy held a lot of promise but was nothing more than a scientific experiment, for all practical and commercial purposes. The Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC) was also the first State Electricity Regulatory Commission to implement a general tariff order for grid connected renewable energy.