India is a tropical country where the sun shines bright for at least eight months, but we have miserably failed to exploit this bounty for producing solar energy. Given the economic and environmental costs involved in generating energy through the use of fossil fuels, solar energy does make immense sense. Unfortunately, the energy policy has been so far skewed in favour of thermal power. Even wind power has received indifferent treatment at the hands of successive governments. Now, with the world at large waking up to the growing environmental degradation due to the excessive reliance on fossil fuels, policy-makers are turning to alternative sources. Sustainable energy from wind and sun is an excellent idea, whose time seems to have come at last. One of Narendra Modi’s first acts after taking over as Prime Minister last May was to enhance the target for solar energy from 20,000 megawatts to one lakh megawatts in five years. That is quite ambitious, but doable. All these years, the one big deterrent against solar power was the initial high investment. Solar panels were expensive and their lifespans were relatively small. However, in recent years there has been a huge correction in pricing thanks to the Chinese overcapacity and, as a result, these are now available at most competitive rates. Besides, there has been a sharp increase in the manufacturing capacities in the US and a few other western nations. But it is in tropical countries like India where the opportunity for solar power generation is immense. At present, of the total power generation in the country, renewable energy accounts for a little over five per cent. The Modi Government aims to raise the contribution of the renewable energy in the total energy basket to fifteen per cent by 2019. This requires both funds and commitment of private and public corporations. Distressingly, private players in the alternative wind and solar energy have often exploited only the tax breaks meant to boost its production without actually generating much energy. Wind farms in Tamil Nadu and solar farms in Rajasthan are not without their share of bogus firms, existing only on paper for sheer tax evasion. This should stop. Hopefully, the incentives being offered by the energetic minister for power, coal and renewable energy, Piyush Goyal, would help augment solar and wind power production in the coming months and years. In this regard, state governments must contribute by offering matching grants/subsidies to house-owners who install solar panels on top of their houses. Not unlike the hybrid electric and/or battery cars which are prohibitively expensive despite some subsidy by a few state governments, taxation on solar panels too needs to be rationalised so that those keen to instal them are not deterred by the initial high capital costs. Though India’s share of nuclear power is woefully small, at barely three per cent of the total, even nuclear power is not without its own hazards, including the very real danger of an occasional mishap in the plant itself. However, both in the case of solar and wind power, not only are there no such hazards, but, what is more, these are self-sustaining sources of power requiring minimal maintenance.
Quite aside from the fact that augmenting the supply of renewable energy would help meet the growing needs of an energy-deficient economy, the accent on solar and wind power can also help stave off some of the pressure from the western countries for reducing our carbon footprint. The ongoing climate talks which can climax in a possible agreement in Paris at the end of the year have a better chance of success should India be able to convince the world that it is now engaged in sharply stepping up its production of renewable energy. More than two-thirds of our energy production is coal-based. The rising cost of coal production and the high environmental threat is in itself a reason for switching to alternative sources of energy. But the added reason for lowering our carbon footprint should be no less persuasive. Yes, the developed world has been the biggest culprit in deteriorating greenhouse gas emissions, but that was before the world woke up to the dangers of environmental degradation. Too bad India, China and other nations in the developing world have to reckon with the greenhouse effect when the western nations have already attained a certain level of economic prosperity. Indeed, China is the biggest producer of greenhouse gases today, more than a quarter of the global total. India barely accounts for a third of the Chinese emissions. Yet, that is no reason for India not to take all possible steps to attune our growth to healthy environmental goals. In this respect, Modi’s emphasis on adding one lakh megawatts of solar power to our total energy production is most welcome. All possible infrastructural and financial assistance must be made available to genuine entrepreneurs who come forward to produce solar and wind energy.