about 2 years ago
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By Ruma Dubey

The news from the Indian solar or renewable energy sector is always in superlatives - we are doing everything which is the biggest! Yet, the underlying problems which are now cropping up, threaten to cut us down to size.

First the superlatives -  the target it to install  100,000 megawatts  by March 2022. Actually,  till date we have added 22,000 MW.  

Another superlative -  Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, has a capacity of 648 MW and covers an area of 10 sq km, making it the largest solar power plant at a single location.

Another one - Cochin has the world's first fully solar-powered airport.

And very soon, India's largest renewable energy company, ReNew Power will be coming out with its IPO.

Thus for all practical purposes, India's solar energy sector is booming. A recent visit through some of the remotest villages in India, some of them in Spiti valley show that solar panels dot every home and today, bulbs shine in homes which had not seen light in their homes for generations together. Yes, solar power has become affordable today, so much so that it costs less than thermal energy  Last month, solar tariff hit the lowest ever at Rs.2.44/unit at the 2000 MW auction conducted by Solar Corporation of India (SECI). Acme Solar, one of the biggest domestic solar developers, with around 1700 MW of commissioned solar projects, won 600 MW with this bid. 

Despite all this sunshine in the solar energy sector, a recent study by PI Berlin, a German technical advisory firm has highlighted some very uncomfortable truths. And just to bring things into perspective - Germany leads the world when it comes to usage of solar energy in day-to-day life.

A quick look through what the study reveals:

Biggest issue - poor quality of solar panels; not just the ones imported from China and Malaysia (that's where over 90% of India's solar panels or modules comes from) but even those made in India are of sub-par standard. Ditto for components too, which cannot even stand strong wind.

Solar farms are huge, each trying to outdo the other in size but apart from the focus on size, not much attention is paid on maintaining the post-construction systems, with many farms not even having a weather station to monitor performance.

There is a large gap between warranty and construction agreements.

It also found gaps in warranty and construction agreements between the plant-owners and construction firms.

Lax requirement from the Govt to register a company as a solar component maker adds to the woe.

The pricing pressure is very strong, making the sector itself unremunerative.

All are mostly amateurs in the field thus inexperience and lack of awareness too is leading to poor quality.

In the current atmosphere or mistrust and high politicking, it would be no surprise to see the Govt pooh-poohing this report, calling it vested interest. But whatever be the reason, the study is neither untrue nor are the problems cited.

India is on the threshold of truly becoming a super hero when it comes to solar energy and we do not play our cards right now, that opportunity too will slip away from the hands like sand.

There is no doubt that the study has given solid reasons for the Modi Govt to relook at where we are heading - achieving mere targets is not the idea, it has to be done while adhering to quality. The Govt has to lay down very strict technical standards for components, failure-free installation, and construction.

Seriously, lets not make this into a ISI brand, which in today's time has no relevance when it comes to quality.  Let us not become a China when it comes to quality, lets aim to become a Japan.

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