IT Power for Solar Energy : Rajendra Nimje

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Rajendra Nimje, Managing Director, Solar Energy Corporation of India

India has come a long way in the solar sector; with the help of IT, SECI looks forward to go a step ahead and make India a leader in harnessing solar power, says Rajendra Nimje in a conversation with Souvik Goswami of ENN

Give us an overview of the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI).
Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) was established under the aegis of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) to plan and execute an integrated programme on development and deployment of solar energy technologies.

SECI’s mission is to become the leader in development of large scale solar installations, solar plants and solar parks, as well as to promote and commercialise the use of solar energy to reach the remotest corner of India.

We are confident that government support is needed currently, but eventually it would make business sense to alter the energy mix of the country so that a significant portion comes through solar power. What according to you is the present state of implementation of JNNSM in the country? The first phase of Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) has progressed very smoothly, with appreciable coordination between all the departments, agencies and stakeholders involved. The mission has been instrumental in bringing economy in the solar sector. The national mission has generated a ripple-effect across the entire supply chain of the solar industry. Domestic component manufacturing has sky-rocketed and business environment has improved. Solar is emerging as a good source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for the country.

The second phase (Batch-I) is also smoothly progressing. A major chunk of capacity would be coming up by April 2015. Batch-II is in draft stage and subsequent batches are also under consideration.

“SECI’s mission is to become the leader in development of large scale solar installations, solar plants and solar parks, as well as to promote and commercialise the use of solar energy.”

Major Initiatives
SECI is the only organisation in the country which is exclusively dealing with solar energy development, execution, planning and providing solar consultancy to various organisations. Broadly, SECI has identified two major areas of focus:
• Development of large scale solar capacities across the country: Large scale solar power generation brings down costs through economies of scale and allows for optimum utilisation of resources (land area, evacuation infrastructure, water etc.). Therefore, SECI has embarked on diverse projects in this sector. Some notable segments are:
• UMSPPs and Solar Parks: Ultra Mega Solar Power Projects (UMSPPs) and solar parks utilise large tracts of land across the country for setting up single/multiple solar projects. Whereas UMSPPs are developed under single ownership, solar parks allow smaller, independently held projects with shared infrastructure.
• Implementation of 750 MW projects under JNNSM Phase II, Batch I: Projects are being implemented through VGF support wherein solar power is offered to discoms for Rs. 5.50 per kWh for 25 years. 50 percent of these projects would have indigenously manufactured solar modules and solar cells.
• Solarisation of Indo-Pak border: Large scale SPV projects are coming up in the border areas. Work on two projects of 10 MW each- at Rajasthan and Gujarat, has already started.
• Solar Thermal Pilot Power Plants: Solar thermal is an important technology in terms of providing dispatchable power round-the-clock. Unfortunately, in India, the level of confidence among developers in this technology is still low. Therefore, SECI has undertaken installation of two 50 MW plants with innovative configurations on pilot basis.
B. Decentralised Solar Power generation: One of the main advantages of solar power is that it can be generated at the consumer end also, thereby mitigating the large distribution losses in intervening networks. To that end, SECI is working on several programmes, such as:
• Large Scale Grid-connected Roof Top scheme: Around 76 MW of rooftop projects are under implementation across 37 cities of India. The propagation of solar roof top is very much successful in implementation as well as bringing down the costs.
• Solar Mini/Micro Grids: These are small projects aimed at small villages/hamlets that do not have access to grid power. Providing basic lighting and cooling facilities, these projects are important in the context of upliftment of rural populace.
• Low cost solar lanterns: These are portable lighting solutions that are being supplied to the backward districts of India to aid in their socio-economic upliftment. Recently, 10,000 lanterns were delivered for rescue action in Jammu and Kashmir.

Please give us some details on the use of IT in the overall working of your organisation.
Our organisation is very young and the structure is lean. In order to deliver the complex services and to be ahead of schedule, we banked heavily on IT, apart from the interactive website of our organisation we have standardised processes of the work flow. Our tender evaluation systems are also one of a kind, our 750 mega watt Viability Gap Funding (VGF) scheme tender was acknowledged by the industry as most transparent and efficient.

What challenges lie ahead concerning the increased use of solar energy in India?
Solar power is on fast track and would become a substantial energy source for the country soon. Along with it, there would be an enormous growth of solar manufacturing in cells, modules, inverters, power systems and allied ancillaries. This is a crucial phase and a major challenge is to develop a consistent market for the domestic manufacturers which will ensure continuity in production and expansion.

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A main challenge is having uniformity in solar policies in various state governments which allow Net Metering etc. that are conducive for the penetration of solar energy to the grassroots level.

Another challenge is transmission and evacuation of power from solar power plants which we are facing right now as the present grid is not prepared to handle large quantities of solar power.

Please share with us your vision of SECI.
SECI’s vision is to build a new ‘Green India’ through harnessing abundant solar radiation and to achieve energy security for the country. In light of the impending crisis of conventional fuel supplies as well as environmental concerns, solar energy is a must for a country like India. SECI is envisaged primarily as a solar power generation company that owns and operates generation assets. In future also, we aim to become a major solar power generator.

In addition, SECI is essentially an implementing arm of the MNRE, which manages specific programmes and schemes from time to time. In that context, we are committed to the betterment of the general population.

At a time when the solar power market is still evolving, we have entered into the domain of solar power trading, thus becoming a bankable intermediary between private developers and discoms. This has considerably improved the risk-profile of projects. SECI is also fostering active research and development to come up with techno-commercial optimum solutions.

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