India, the seventh largest country by land mass and 2nd largest by the population is a tropical nation blessed with large amount of sunlight available on it’s land. Theoretically it has been calculated that India receives sunlight in terms of approx. 5,000 trillion kilowatt-hours per year. With a large amount of free solar energy available in India, it is possible to meet all energy needs of the nation through solar power only. For the energy security of India which can be achieved by lowering the dependance on the fossil fuels, Indian government started the Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission in 2010 with the view to promote ecologically sustainable growth with a target of generating 20 GW of solar power by the year of 2022. This target was revised to 100GW in the Union Budget 2015. The National Solar Mission is one of the most ambitious program in the world which is just second to China that has aimed to install solar power capacity of 150-200 GW by the year 2020.
The Indian Government has taken two pronged approach in order to complete this project. In its first approach it has initiated a modular installation of the solar power plants which have been installed in order to fulfill a specific task or to fulfill the energy requirement of a particular agency or an installation. There are two very good examples of both the cases which have been implemented in the country. These two cases are as below:
- Rajasthan Solar Water Pumping Project: This is one of the application based implementation of the solar power in India which has saved not only the electricity but also saved diesel and hence has saved lot of foreign exchange of the country. In this scheme the Rajasthan Government has provided the farmers with Solar panels by installing them on their fields for pumping of water. There are two pumps which are for field irrigation. One is a low power DC pump which can work even if the power generated by solar panel is low while the other is a high power AC pump which only works when power generated by solar panel is high. Depending on the day time availability, both pumps work alternately. Hence there is no need of diesel based pumps in irrigation which has resulted in low cost production of crops. Moreover when there is no requirement of pumps, the power generated by these panels are rerouted for other necessities. In the long run this system will shine as an example in India with its effectiveness in addressing major issues of the farmers.
- Solar plant of Kochi International Airport: This is one of the prime example of modular approach of the national solar mission in which an installation has achieved self sufficiency in the power generation by the use of solar power. The Kochi airport is the first airport in the world to run completely on the solar power generated through its solar plant. As we all know that an airport requires very high power requirement and when the self sufficiency in the power generation is ensured, it frees up the grid and the surplus power generated meets the requirement elsewhere.
While the modular approach has been very successful till now in meeting various power needs, the government has been primarily focusing its effort to install grid based solar power plants. In this approach the Indian Government has set a target of 60 GW power generation through these plants and rest 40 GW through the roof-top solar plants.
The biggest solar power plant that has been set up is the Charanka Solar Park which is generating power equivalent to 590 MW. The main locations for these kind of mega solar power projects are in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh which have very large solar potential among all the other states. One of the very unique approach taken in this plan is to set up the solar plants over the canals.
Canal Solar Power Project: This is a solar power project launched by the Gujarat Government which resulted in the setup of the world’s first canal top solar power project. In this project the Gujarat government has envisaged to use its 19,000 km long Narmada canals for setting up of these kind of solar plants. One of the major restrictions of the solar power generation is its requirement for very large land area to generate large amount of power. This project bypasses that limitation due to the fact that it is using the land used for canal as its setting up location hence it effectively uses zero land area thus making its setting up very cheap. Moreover this has resulted in a symbiotic relationship with the canal itself as it does not allow evaporation of water in the canals hence it also saves millions of litre of water. In effect this is one of the revolutionary projects which has set up an example to other states to set up similar plants on their canal networks through its success and other benefits that it brings with itself. Although these plants require high maintenance due to the steel scaffolding used for setting up of the solar panels, but it is not a big disadvantage to the advantages that it has.
The National Solar Mission is one of those mega projects of the growing India which has the potential of changing the power demography in the nation in the favour of renewable power systems. Currently the setting up of the solar power projects is a bit on the slower side but it is growing continuously as many more state governments are taking note of the success story it has achieved in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Hence the ambitious target of the NDA government of setting up of 100 GW power capacity through solar power is looking highly possible if the current trend continues in this sector. This is surely one of the steps undertaken to bring a positive change in the country whether it be in social upliftment, power requirement or energy security. Many more such steps need to be taken to walk the long mile of sustainable development but we can remain assured that those steps will surely be taken in the near future.