Solar panel manufacturing expected to grow tenfold in three years: Inder Bhambra

Inder Bhambra, Country Head BD & Sales - Envision Energy

The COP 27 targets are stringent and we intend to boost the country’s renewable energy capacity to 50 per cent by 2030. The goal is to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and become net-zero by 2070. Parallelly, the country is also prioritising energy and food security.

While there was deliberation again at COP 27 on the need for developed countries to support the developing ones by financing their initiatives towards production of green energy, the fact remains that despite India being amongst the lower emitters on a per capita basis, we still remain the third most GHG emitting country in the world.

Power, steel, automotive, aviation, cement and agriculture are the primary industries that contribute the most to GHG (Green House Gases), accounting for over 70% of the total.

Considering the growth path that India is on, we anticipate our infrastructure to expand at least four times by 2050 and possibly five to six times by 2070. In the process, the referred industries are expected to grow many fold, like the power industry – eight fold, steel industry – eight fold, cement – three fold, auto – three fold and food production at least two fold from where we are now.

So, unless we take serious actions and build low carbon capabilities in each of these fields, it won’t be an overstatement to say that we are headed for disaster. There is a dire need to take concrete steps at individual, corporate and government levels to turn things around.

While there is a clear direction and intent from various stakeholders in terms of making the power production green, we as a country cannot avoid producing power through coal and hydro. Although we believe hydro power is environment friendly, the large hydel power plants have their own drawbacks such as submerging large expanses of land, effectively relocating local residents and impacting their lives and livelihood. Further, not many of us realise that in the initial phase of operation, these projects submerge a lot of vegetation as well, which produces methane; and methane is 25 times more powerful in terms of heat trapping character ad compared to CO2.

Considering that the smaller and environment friendly run-of-the-river hydro power stations or nuclear power plants require a construction time line of 5 to 7 years, there’s clear urgency for a sharp increase in capacity for alternative sources, be it solar, wind, geothermal or biomass. Introduction of schemes like PLI (Production linked incentives) for manufacture of solar cells and for advanced chemistry cells for energy storage as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat are steps in the right direction.

Industries like solar panel manufacturing are expected to grow tenfold in a matter of three years making India the second largest producer of panels in the world after China and similarly the storage cell manufacturing and manufacturing of electrolyzers and synthesizers for producing hydrogen and ammonia respectively are likely to grow at a good pace as well.

The initiatives taken by the government, combined with the interest shown by the industry to focus on technologies such as off-shore wind, on-shore wind, solar, energy storage and green hydrogen and ammonia plants would play a key role in realising our energy transition goals.

Amongst some of the leading Indian industrial houses, the independent power producers (IPPs) funded by private equity setups from all over the world, the Indian power utility companies and multinational power utility companies, there are at least 25 players ready to deploy capital for setting up a GW worth of renewable power projects year after year.

So, today we have everything it takes to add 25 GW of renewable energy in the country annually. Considering the above developments and the fact that wind and solar energy have not just reached grid parity but have become substantially cheaper than the average power procurement cost, I believe we’ve reached the point of inflection.

There’s however the need to focus on strengthening power evacuation at locations with rich wind and solar resource. Inviting auctions for grid augmentation at these locations needs to gather a much higher pace. Further, the govt. and industry together need to come up with solutions for quicker land acquisition, without compromising the interest of local stakeholders.

Independent Power Producers should also consider power offtake arrangements that are not entirely dependent on the grid, such as building power islands to generate green hydrogen and green ammonia. This could help producing green products essential for sustainability by using a reasonably small connectivity with the grid, merely for commissioning the power producing elements.

The Middle East and North Africa regions have already taken lead in this space and it’s time India catches up by announcing the right levels of incentives or subsidies.

Views expressed by Inder Bhambra, Country Head BD & Sales – Envision Energy.