Wednesday, August 12, 2009

DDK on Solar Energy

An Indian Express editorial cites DDK's views in favour of solar energy.
In the ’50s and ’60s, solar energy was just a glint in the Indian scientific establishment’s eye. Two of our intellectual heavyweights, D.D. Kosambi and Homi Bhabha, clashed over whether India should concentrate on solar or nuclear energy. Kosambi’s view that India has a natural advantage in the solar sector, compared to the enormous costs of nuclear power, was ultimately disregarded. Since then, we have dawdled for years. According to the CAG, our solar energy centre in the renewable energy ministry, which is meant to link government, institutions, industry and consumers, sent back 44-76 per cent of its budget between 2002-7. There was practically no headway in research or tech, or any productive relationships with industry.

But now, India is all set to come up with a global energy breakthrough, with a solar plan that aims to generate 20 GW (that is, 20,000 MW) over the next couple of decades (the largest in the world). This would make us a leader in renewable energy, and would radically change India’s role in climate change mitigation. Obviously, there is much to be worked through in order to transform solar energy from a small boutique alternative to a steady and substantial part of our energy mix — most importantly in the price differential between conventional and solar power. India’s solar plan aims for grid parity by 2020. Another significant shift is the focus on solar thermal, along with photo-voltaic (electricity-generating) technology.

All of this sounds thoroughly commendable, but the question is, how will it be executed and who will pick up the tab? While private industry is most competent to take on this task, payback will take a long time, and much of the risk and R&D will have to be publicly footed. The challenge is to structure incentives to spur disruptive innovation, without having to prop it up altogether. Once we have a clear aim, cost estimates, and a set of our own commitments by the time Copenhagen rolls around, India is entitled to ask the world to pitch in, at least in terms of financial support. Either way, India has finally come to a constructive position and crafted a plan commensurate with its capacities, rather than whingeing about the unfairness of having to take action on the world’s behalf.

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