Teji Mandi Explains: Supreme Court order puts a speed breaker on India's 'Solar Dreams'

The growth of renewable energy in India has hit a major roadblock with a recent order from the Supreme Court. The apex court has ordered the companies operating in Rajasthan and Gujarat to shift their overhead power lines underground as they fall in the habitats of critically endangered birds.

The order, if implemented, would require the companies to go for a major overhaul and completely change the operational models of many projects in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The Consequences

Rajasthan and Gujarat are among the top five solar states in India with an installed capacity of 4,400 MW and 2,654 MW, respectively. Some of these projects are located in the habitats of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB). According to wildlife experts, only about 150 of these birds survive. While about 15% of them die each year from electrocution.

The order will have huge implications for the solar companies who operate their projects in these areas. As they will need to take all their overhead power lines underground in those areas.

As per an estimate, more than 2,500 kilometers of cables, including both high and low-voltage, have to be laid underground as per the court ruling at an estimated cost of Rs 22,000 crore. It could eventually lead to a tariff hike of 10-15% to recover the cost.

The solar industry association now plans to approach the Supreme Court, seeking at least partial relief on the order. However, this decision will have a major implication on all the existing as well as upcoming projects.

Few experts are also concerned that most of the projects fall under the habitats of endangered birds. And, under the impact of this order, setting up new projects in Rajasthan may not be feasible in the future.

Major Setback for Mission Renewable

The Supreme Court order is a major roadblock to India's renewable energy ambitions. By 2030, the Indian government wants to generate 450 gigawatts of renewable energy.

To put it in perspective, the country's total electricity production capacity is currently about 380 gigawatts, including 90 gigawatts of renewable energy.

Increasing solar capacity is crucial to that part. Rajasthan and Gujarat are the crucial states and currently feature in the top five states generating solar energy.

The country is already working on the target of having 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. This includes 100 GW of solar and 60 GW of wind energy.

As is the case, India's solar capacity addition slowed down in 2020. With the addition of 3,239 MW capacities, the lowest in the last five years. As compared to the 7,346 MW deployed in 2019, it was a 56% decline. As of December 2020, the country's total solar installed capacity was 39 GW (gigawatts).

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