At the December 2015 Paris Climate negotiations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India&’s commitment to 100 Gigawatts of solar energy connected to the grid by 2022. Commentators have questioned this ambitious target given the fact that India&’s current solar capacity is approximately 5 GW and India&’s commitment is equal to half of the total global production of solar energy. However, a study conducted at Stanford University indicated that this target is indeed achievable with a strong domestic policy push and international investment.
There has been a substantial policy push both at the central and state levels and investment appetite in the sector has increased: non-binding investment commitments of 171 GW from some 50 developers have been made, though how many of these will actually materialise is uncertain. In India, both the union and the state governments can make and formulate policy in the energy sector and therefore policy changes at the state level are crucial in achieving these ambitious solar targets.
Rajasthan has emerged as the leader in solar energy among the states. According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Renewable Energy, Rajasthan topped in the country with a total installed solar capacity of 1264 MW out of the total 5129 MW of installed solar power capacity in all states as of January 2016. And Rajasthan is likely to remain the national leader in solar energy in the coming years. This change has come about owing to a number of factors including Rajasthan&’s 300-330 days of sun and highest solar radiation of 6.0-7.0 kWh/ m2 in the country. Moreover, availability of large tracts of flat and underdeveloped barren land, a favourable policy environment, positive market dynamics and a national push to solar energy have made Rajasthan the leading solar energy producing state in India.
The Rajasthan government announced a new Solar Energy Policy in 2014 which primarily focuses on creating an investment friendly atmosphere in the state&’s solar sector. The government aims to achieve the target of installing 25 GW of installed solar capacity through public, private and individual efforts. The Government aims to achieve this target by encouraging private investment through measures like provision of government land to set up solar parks, easing of registration and processing procedures, reduction of security amount for from Rs 25 lakh per MW to Rs 10 lakh per MW and reduction of the eligibility criteria of net-worth requirement to Rs 1 crore/MW from Rs 3 crore/MW. Further, the government seeks to amend laws like the Rajasthan Tenancy Act and Rajasthan Land Revenue acts to allow landholders to set up solar plants on their land. Moreover, solar power plants have been given a special status by the State Pollution Control Board. Also the process of obtaining “Consent to Establish” and “Consent to Operate” has been simplified by issuing these consents within 15 days. Other than these, the government seeks to encourage rooftop solar plants by proposing a net metering scheme where rooftop solar plants can be installed by individuals and the government will buy the surplus after consumption. In the 2014-15 budget, the government made a provision of Rs 119 crore for solar power pumps for farmers and Rs.100 crore were allocated to connect villages with “local solar grid, stand-alone solar systems and smart grid systems.”
The Rajasthan government has set up a land bank to provide land to solar power producers. The government has also allowed solar power producers to buy private land exceeding the ceiling limit along the guaranteed water supply from the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project (IGNP) or the nearest water source available for solar thermal projects.
On the off grid front, 15000 solar powered pumps have already been installed and work has begun on the net metering scheme.
While Rajasthan looks like a success story worthy of imitation in other states, there are important challenges. The government has not set a deadline to achieve the ambitious target of 25 GW. Land remains a key issue as huge tracts of land will be required to meet the target. Transparency and timely provision of land will play an important role in achieving the goals. Moreover, the success of the programme depends on greater investment in innovation and research and development to bring down the cost of solar technology.
The Rajasthan government led by Vasundhara Raje deserves to be commended for establishing the state as India&’s leader in solar energy. However, the long term continuation of these efforts and similar efforts by other states will play a crucial role in achieving the solar commitments made by India at the Paris summit.
(The writers are respectively a Masters student in public policy and a professor at the Jindal Global University.)