‘India’s renewable energy programme full of schoolboy errors’

April 14th, 2009 - 3:46 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 14 (IANS) India, the only country in the world with a dedicated renewable energy ministry, is making basic school-standard errors in efforts to replace fossil fuel with green energy sources, a new report says.

From poor research and development (R&D) to non-existent basic data and non-functioning projects, the Indian renewables industry is dogged by a catalogue of mismanagement and errors that are stopping vital private investments in the sector.

Embarrassingly, the report, written jointly by the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) in London and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad, comes just a week after India was praised for its renewable energy programmes at an international conference on climate change in Bonn, Germany.

Using renewable energy is an important part of global attempts to overcome climate challenges that arise mainly from the emission of greenhouse gases from burning non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal.

The report, aimed at informing international investors, says India needs to overcome major challenges if it is to realise its vast renewable energy promise, saying the lack of data and R&D poses “huge technical difficulties for investors.”

There is, for instance, no real data on where the windiest parts of India are, although the country is “blessed with” high velocity winds from the strong south-west summer monsoon, the report says.

With 35 cities and towns with a population of over a million, there is a vast potential to develop electricity from municipal waste, but there is no reliable information on what type of waste these places generate.

Of 553 wind-monitoring stations that are installed in India, only 53 are in operation.

India has 300 days of natural sunlight a year, but the drive for solar power is hampered by the lack of land as solar plants have to compete with other infrastructure projects.

“It is clear that there are still R&D, grid interface and manufacturing issues which need to be put right,” said CBC Director General Mohan Kaul.

“The central and regional governments can also do better. They need to provide more user-friendly data, procedures and incentives if investors are going to take a risk on relatively new technologies which are already difficult enough to get off the ground,” Kaul added.

Listing its findings, the report says:

– The wind sector suffers from “huge grid interface problems” because of which rotating turbines end up generating low levels of electricity;

– The biomass market is “completely unstructured,” so there is no formal way of meeting demands or checking the quality of products;

– Poor local data on waste makes it difficult for companies to decide what type of waste-power plants to design;

– Getting government clearance for a wind site, or sourcing equipment can be a bureaucratic nightmare;

– Inefficient manufacturing processes makes the production of silicon-based solar cells costly. Japan, Europe, China, and the US are ranked far ahead.

However, Kaul said: “I am still hugely confident that India will in the long run resource a significant amount of its energy from renewables because there is a tremendous amount of will within the government to do it and because it has huge natural resources.”

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