Spurt forecast in nonconventional energy

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• A RS 4.5-crore, 100-kw solar photovoltaic power plant -- Asia's largest -- is to be commissioned by Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao in May 1993 at Kalyanpur village in Aligarh district.

• A Rs 4,000-crore, 100-mw tidal wave power project in the Gulf of Kutch is being reviewed.

• A 30-mw solar thermal power plant is being set up near Jodhpur, in the Rajasthan desert.

These are all part of a sweeping nonconventional energy programme that is receiving an infusion of funds in the remaining years of the Eighth Plan and reflects the new image of the ministry of nonconventional energy sources (MNES), upgraded last year from a department. MNES minister of state S Krishna Kumar, noting that "renewable energy is the key energy sector of the future", warns of formidable costs and hurdles in replacing energy from conventional sources, such as oil and coal, with energy from nonconventional sources, such as wind, solar photovoltaic, mini-micro hydel and biomass gasifiers.

Action plan
The ministry's action plan aims at a power generation target from nonconventional energy sources of 2,000 mw by 1996-97 from the present level of 200 mw being obtained now. Says Krishna Kumar, "We have been going at a slow pace because of the paucity of funds, but help from international donors is on the increase. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) will eventually have a corpus of $3 billion and we hope to get a sizeable share of this."

MNES secretary L M Menezes points out, "After nearly a decade of demonstration projects, it is now time to broaden the market and give the consumer a wider choice. The ministry is reorienting its programmes in this direction."

The ministry's efforts are being lauded internationally and Andrew Peers, British Petroleum (BP) Solar representative in India, says, "There is a sea change in the outlook of MNES. It is actively campaigning for commercialisation of these technologies."

Experts say increasing conventional energy production means hiking a crude oil import bill that reached Rs 16,000 crore in 1992-93, aggravating deforestation and displacement of people to cater to huge hydro-electric projects and increasing environmental degradation from use of coal.

High potential
Caught unprepared by the OPEC-inspired oil crisis in 1973, the world's leading energy consuming nations, hitherto dependent on coal and oil, began exploring renewable energy options. At present, studies indicate about one-quarter of global energy comes from renewable sources.

Because of India's vast territory, varied geography and different agroclimatic conditions, its renewable energy potential is high. At present, such energy forms only 1 per cent of country's total energy production. Krishna Kumar says, "Our aim should be to hike this to 10-15 per cent by 2010." Ministry officials explain, "The primary reason for the low share of renewables in total energy production has been the low investment by the government in the sector." They disclosed that less than 1 per cent of the government's energy outlay is on renewable sources (excluding hydroelectric dams).

The government's total energy allocation for the Eighth Plan is Rs 63,979 crore of which Rs 857 crore was allocated to Krishna Kumar's ministry. The Planning Commission's working group had initially recommended an investment of Rs 6,922 crore in the NCE sector with the aim of installing 3,600 mw of generating capacity. However, this figure was whittled down to Rs 857 crore in the final plan allocation. MNES now anticipates that its financing in the last two years of the plan will be augmented by about Rs 1,300 crore, with the additional funding coming mainly as external assistance from the World Bank and GEF.

The World Bank has already sanctioned a US $115 million for projects in NCE sector and discussions are continuing with Indian government officials for further funding. The GEF funding sanctioned so far is US $100 million with MNES officials anticipating the total to be increased as ongoing negotiations conclude. MNES adviser J Gururaja disclosed that bilateral assistance of US $50 million and US $4 million from Denmark and Sweden, respectively, has been cleared and other bilateral financing negotiations are continuing.

Multilateral financing of the nonconventional energy projects in India is something new and Peers explains, "India is a forerunner in tapping the GEF for its nonconventional energy programme. And, V Bakthavatsalam, MD of Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency, adds, "this is the first time that the World Bank is funding projects in this sector."

After stepmotherly treatment from the Planning Commission which slashed MNES original Rs 6,622 crore request by 70 per cent for the Eighth Plan, the NCE sector's new credit line is seen as a new lease on life. Says R K Pachauri, director Tata Energy Research Institute, "Over the last five years, some renewables have emerged as technically and economically viable alternatives in the energy sector. More ambitious plans for their dissemination can now be launched on a larger scale."