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Solar 2010 Conference at Delhi – by Renewable Energy India Forum | India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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I had the fortune to be present at the Solar 2010 Conference & Seminar held at Delhi Sep 21-22 @ Lalit Hotel. The event was organized by the Renewable Energy India Forum of IPFOnline. See here for the event homepage

IPFonline, for many years, has been working closely with small and medium enterprises across the manufacturing sector. IPFonline’s vision for the introduction of the Renewable Energy India Forum is to create awareness and drive demand by supporting the product innovations in this segment. Commenting on the initiative Mr. Linus Lobo, COO, IPFonline limited said, “The objective for creation of Renewable Energy India Forum Energy is to bring forth and support ideas and innovations in a focussed manner and thereby ultimately contribute to catalysing the shift to clean green living. Solar 2010 marks our first step towards this progressive effort and we hope to achieve successful results in the coming years.”

I must indeed thank the organizers for providing me with an opportunity for not just to speak as part of a panel, but also moderate two sessions – one a speaker session and the other a panel discussion.

I provide details and highlights of the event and some (immodest) self-advertisement of my speech and moderation.

Some of the prominent speakers at the conference were:

I spoke on “Raising the Demand for Solar”. Not exactly an easy topic – well, how exactly do you increase the demand for a commodity that costs four times as much as its substitutes?! Fortunately, I had realized that I was up against a tough topic and along with my colleagues had brainstormed on this topic for many hours. As a result, I was able to put together a reasonably good model through which the demand for solar power and solar based products could be increased. You can download my presentation from here http://eai.in/ref/eve/solar_2010_conference_exhibition.html.

I was not present for the entire conference. As a result, I guess I did miss a good amount of wisdom. Whatever little I could gather, I am putting them down as follows:

1. I was asked about the possibility of using solar thermal for industrial process heating. My answer was, yes, it is pretty much possible and is already being applied in some industries. Specifically where diesel is being used to produce heating, solar-based heating could be very competitive. While an industry might not be able to use solar heating for 100% of the time owing to the fact that solar thermal is not available on demand (though its performance on this front is much better than its performance vis-a-vis solar-based electricity), my response was that solar heating could satisfy large portions of such applications.

2. I was also asked about what the governments can do in terms of better planning for solar energy at a decision-making/ministerial level. I am a small guy and am nowhere near the corridors of power, so I was not able to give a convincing answer to this question. Thankfully, some of the speakers who spoke along with me on the panel took the question and provided some generic answers.

3. The third question to me was about the use of Net Metering and why it had not been introduced in India yet. Was there any major technical issues, a person from the audience wished to know. I responded that from my understanding, Net Metering is not a very sophisticated thing to accomplish, and with a number of states in countries like the US already having Net Metering, the technology is pretty much there as well. (I also read a news article from a couple of years back when a small Net Metering project had already been implemented in a BIPV systems in West Bengal – details here). Yes, you indeed need a distribution infrastructure that is a bit more mature and robust for Net Metering, but I am of the opinion that there are no serious technical barriers that are keeping it from reality.

For the session for which I was the chairperson, the session was on Running Solar Projects in India & on Photovoltaic & Thermal -Planning to Running-The Global Experience. It had three speakers.

Adam Smith (Solar Systems) spoke on the global experience, about the trends in solar PV and the various aspects of a solar PV project implementation. The second half of his speech (on project implementation) was really well received as many people in the audience had come to hear exactly something like that.

Debajit Palit (TERI) made an impassioned presentation on the admirable work done by TERI in the implementation of the Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL). It is important that I present the main goal of this awesome program – “The Campaign aims to bring light into the lives of one billion rural people by replacing the kerosene and paraffin lanterns with solar lighting devices. This will facilitate education of children; provide better illumination and kerosene-smoke-free indoor environment for women to do household chores; and provide opportunities for livelihoods both at the individual level and at village level. In terms of physical targets, it translates into 200,000,000 solar lanterns in use, assuming that each solar lantern benefits five members of a family.” – Link. What also piqued my interest was the factoid mentioned by Debajit that in the last 2 years, the price of the solar lanterns supplied by TERI to the villagers had come down by 50%. This was mainly owing to the efforts TERI had undertaken by analysing each component that went into the solar lantern and figuring out how to bring down the cost of that component.

Navratan Katariya of Shurjo Energy (an Indian company producing thin film based products, especially for the BIPV segment) spoke on the topic of thin film technologies and provided excellent details on how individuals and businesses keen on using this technology for their households and commercial establishments could evaluate the system under various configurations.

The session in which I was a speaker had the following speakers: Alok Nigam from Lanco Solar, Anil Patni from Tata BP Solar, Sunil Jain from Green Infra.

Alok Nigam and Anil Patni dwelt on state-specific strategies for solar power. Both of them had a lot of interesting points. In this context, I must admit that I still did not get answers to a nagging question I have had for the past few months:  Where exactly are the states going to get the money for the lavish subsidies they are proposing through their own feed-in-tariffs for solar power plants? I asked this question to some folks there, and I did not get a clear answer – in fact, they had the same question as well. I had asked this at another meet a month back with a World Bank consultative meeting where many experts from the solar and wind energy industry had gathered, and was there any specific answer I got for this? Nada!

Finally, I was given the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on the exciting topic “Mapping a Roadmap to Grid Parity”. The members in this panel discussion were:

Jayant Deo – CEO – Indian Energy Exchange

S K Kaila – Vice President, Maharishi Solar

Ramana Reddy – KfW

Ananth – MD, Neutech Solar

It was a fairly detailed, hour long discussion on the key drivers that will take us towards grid parity and how the government and private sector in India can work along these drivers to get solar to grid parity within the next 10 years.

After the first round of opinions from the panelists, the following were the main drivers as gathered by me:

1. Indigenisation of technology

2. Technology improvements

3. Focus on solar thermal, both CSP and water heaters and process heating/drying

4. Feed-in-Tariffs

5. Economies of Scale

Some of the issues discussed during this session were:

1. The significance of CSP in the entire roadmap

CSP has been around since mid eighties when the first large CSP based solar power plant (in Mojave Desert, California) was built, and so we should give more emphasis to it, felt Kalia. The question that was raised however was “If CSP is so stable and its costs have come down as well, and if has been existing for over two decades, how come the total installed capacity for CSP is still less than 600 MW worldwide while its PV counterpart has over 20,000 MW?”. The audience was told that while yes, the current installed capacity of CSP was indeed low, there has been significant acceleration in additional projects in CSP and very soon we will find CSP on scales comparable to that of PV (About 1800 MW of solar CSP power generation are in the pipeline, I was told). (Here are two wonderful articles I found on solar CSP trends – Solar Thermal Gears Up for a Comeback and Parabolic Growth)

Significant advances have also been made in storage for CSP (in the form of molten salt).

2. How exchanges can play a role in driving towards grid parity

I asked this question to Jayant Deo (IEX’s CEO) and he had a nice answer. In addition to being an exchange where electricity can be bought at sold by the market at market-determined prices, IEX has also started trading renewable energy certificates. Now, this gets interesting. If you are a producer of power from solar energy and if you are  eligible for renewable energy certificates, then you can trade these over IEX. Jayant assured the audience that the whole process is absolutely smooth and sellers get their money fairly quickly. Thus, the presence of RECs that could be traded over IEX enables IEX to be a driver for higher adoption of solar, and consequently, a reason for driving down costs.

3. Is there anything the Indian government should do when it comes to changing the way they plan things.

It was Jayant from IEX again who answered this question. In his opinion, the government is doing all (or at least, most) it can, and it is really upto the private industry and the public at large to use the framework laid down by the government and take solar to the next stage.

Anant from Neutech Solar (not surprisingly) felt that the government should give higher priority to solar thermal, especially down-to-earth technologies such as solar water heaters which have already proved economically and technically viable. I completely agree with him, and I had been one who had been singing the praise of solar water heaters for a long, long time.

4. Should India rely more on indigenisation (and the resulting emphasis on local content) or should we look at buying components and products at the cheapest possible prices, from wherever in the world we can get them.

Well, as I expected most of the panelists felt that India should look at indigenizing as much as possible. When I pointed out that indigenization had not really made Indian products cheaper than Chinese, and that it was unlikely that Indian products (or for that matter any developed/developing country’s products) could ever be as cheap as those of Chinese, the response was that we should start building scale now. If we are able to build massive scales like the Chinese do, perhaps we could also have the same cost economics as they do. Possibly.

5. What innovations should financing institutions (banks, VCs, PEs, multilateral lending organizations) bring to the table in order to enable accelerated growth and thereby cost reduction?

Ramana Reddy from KfW talked on this aspect. He felt that the government was already being fairly innovative with its feed-in-tariff and other financial incentives. In his opinion, the private sector (VCs, banks and PEs) also had in mind reasonably good financial offerings for the solar PV industry.

6. Economies of scale

Many of the panelists felt that achieving economies of scale and hence a critical mass for solar modules and solar power plant installations was a critical driver to achieve grid parity by 2022.  Guess this was one aspect in which all of us were unanimous.

Other interesting points I gathered from the various sessions:

1. Financiers look for project IRRs of about 12% and DSCR of about 1.3. When someone in the audience asked how much would be the DSCR at feed-in-tariffs of about Rs 15/kWh, the answer was: 0.5-0.6

2. All solar projects financed so far have been balance sheet funded and not project funded (not sure whether this was specifically for solar or for all renewable energy projects, but my guess is, it was intended for solar alone?)

3. Many of the panelists were not themselves sure where the states are going to get the funds they have alloted for their own feed-in-tariffs based solar PV incentives.

4. A 15 MW CSP plant in Rajasthan is expected to start operations from Jan 2011?

In sum, it was a hectic and absolutely productive two days for me. I am really thankful to IPF. Rajrishi Ghosh deserves special thanks for reposing his faith in my abilities not just to speak but also to moderate two sessions that had distinguished, expert speakers.