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Myth and reality of Govt of India's renewal energy talk: Solar rooftops, parks

By Shankar Sharma* 

Whereas, the recent announcement about 1 crore households to be fitted with rooftop SPV systems is a great step in the right direction, questions are being raised as to why such a target could not have been much more ambitious, such as 15- 20 crore houses by 2035-40, along with some financial contribution by the house owners, which could also have reduced the financial burden of the state.  
If most of this large number of houses are also equipped with suitably sized energy storage battery systems and interactive gadgets to effectively interact with the state/ national grids, the electricity demand/ supply scenario in the country will undergo a transformatively positive change for the future. 
Humongous amounts of money could be saved in this approach in the form of saved land diversion, dedicated power lines and substations, the need for pumped storage plants/ large size energy storage facilities etc.
At the same time the massive size of a solar park in Gujarat (final capacity of 30,000 MW), even though it is in the Kutch area, should also have evoked multiple concerns; especially from the ecological and operational perspectives.
A land based solar power park, with a capacity of 30,000 MW, may need a permanent diversion of more than 150,000 acres of land (@ 5 acres per MW) plus for all other supporting infrastructure such as scores of dedicated power lines to evacuate the generated power (for only 8-10 hours a day), and roads, substations, township etc.  
The destruction of habitat for various kinds of creatures in such a vast area, even though it is not deemed as a fertile land, will have long term implications to the region and the country.  Sudden loss of power due to multiple tripping of lines, or due to solar storms, or due to quick appearance of cloud cover, or due to some kind of terrorsit attack can make this power source of some concern to the grid operators.
It is in this context that the desirability of seeking to have roof top SPV systems on most of the households and other kinds of buildings in the country, should be diligently addressed.  Have we diligently considered all the costs & benefits to the larger society of the two technological options even within this RE sector?  Can the distributed kind of REsources, such as solar rooftops on most buildings, be the best possible option for the country?  
Can our country afford to divert such large tracts of land, however arid or infertile land it may be, to the power/ energy sector in addition to multiple demands for such land diversions from other sectors of the economy; especially when there are better options such as distributed kinds of REsources?
Such a diligent approach to our power sector scenario should be carefully adopted now so as to minimise the overall cost to the society in the long term. 
---
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst. This article is based on the author's representation to the Secretary, Power & NRE, and Secretary, MoEF&CC

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