Solar India 2007: Heralding the New-age Solar Economy

Globally solar energy is the fastest growing source of energy with an annual average growth of 40%, as seen during the past few years. While the world is racing ahead for a place in the sun, solar energy development in India has been tardy. The only area where discernible achievements have been made is in solar water heating. India which is facing a massive power crunch needs to urgently put together a comprehensive policy and regulatory framework to fast-forward the growth of this sector.

In order to chart the way forward for solar energy development in India, WISE organised India’s premier conference-cum-exhibition on solar energy, titled 'Solar India 2007' at NIMHANS, Bangalore. The event held on 19–20 July 2007 was supported by government agencies like the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Govt. of India, state nodal agencies, a wide cross-section of the Indian and global solar energy companies, financial institutions, the academia, etc.

Dr. Hermann Scheer, the world renowned renewable energy expert who is the President of EUROSOLAR (The European Association for RE) and General Chairman of the World Council for RE, was the keynote speaker. Giving insights into the existing global energy scenario, Dr Scheer said that it is shocking to see that energy consumption in the last 40 years is more than double that of the energy consumption in the entire history of human civilisation. And the world energy consumption has grown by 50% since 1990—faster than ever before. He likened the current energy situation to a Greek tragedy where everyone knows the ending would be bad, and yet nobody has the courage or commitment to tread the alternate route. Dr Scheer identified many crises arising from the usage of conventional reserves and stated that renewables, which have been ignored from the time of the industrial revolution, are mankind’s only hope for the future. Though there are many impediments for adoption of renewables, he said that one has to look at one’s own opportunities and not wait for global solutions. According to him, the implementation of right policies to transform and translate the macro-economic benefits into micro-economic incentives would usher in a technological revolution in the RE sector which would pave the way for a new energy era.

V Subramanian, Secretary, MNRE who presided over the inaugural session also reiterated India’s need to switch over to renewables and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. In order to speed up the growth of the RE sector, India should formulate an RE law. He added that MNRE has installed 10,000 MW of RE capacity so far, which is three times that of nuclear energy. Though India is one of the top exporters of solar modules, the growth of solar power industry is not satisfactory. Mr Subramanian expressed the hope that introduction of a feed-in tariff in the solar sector would benefit the industry greatly. Welcoming the delegates, G M Pillai, Director General, WISE, said that solar energy has great potential in India and new technologies like concentrating solar thermal electricity looks promising. Mr Pillai said that power generation through the renewable energy route has to become a priority for the government and individual stakeholders, especially the appropriate utilisation of solar energy. According to him the most appealing aspect of this technology is that it has an innumerable variety of applications.

The august gathering included Mr Ajai Vikram Singh, Former Secretary, Ministries of MNRE & Defence, GoI, And Chairman, Advisory Council, ‘Solar Insia 2007’; Dr B Shivalingaiah, MD, Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd (KREDL), Bangalore; and S P Gon Choudhury, Special Secretary & Director, WBREDA, Kolkata. Around 350 national and international delegates from the solar industry, the government, regulators, investors, financiers, academicians, consultants, etc., participated in the conference. The speakers included top level policy makers and regulators, as well as distinguished academicians, researchers, and industry chieftains from India and abroad. Besides Dr Hermann Scheer, the international faculty included Mr Jigar Shah, Managing Director, Sun Edison, USA; Stephen J Phillips, Managing Director, Optimal Power Solutions, Western Australia; Dr Karl Stagemann, Vice President (Technology), Signet Solar, USA; Prof. D Yogi Goswami, Professor, University of Florida; Dr. Damian Miller, CEO, Orb Energy, Singapore; and Mr. Zhang Xue Xiang, Director, Photon, China.

The event highlighted global best practices in the areas of innovation in policy, regulation, financing, market development and awareness creation, besides continued R&D. Case studies of innovative financing and grassroots market development from across India were presented. Panel discussions to suggest recommendations to the government, and initiate innovative policy measures for encouraging the growth of the solar energy sector in the country were also held. A major highlight of the conference was the release of the book titled ‘The Solar Entrepreneur’s Handbook' at the hands of V Subramanian, Secretary, MNRE, and the special issue of WISE's bi-monthly publication, Green Energy, on solar energy by Dr Hermann Scheer. A poster session on technical papers particularly focusing on emerging technologies in the solar energy sector was also held in connection with the conference and exhibition. Entries were received from various colleges and research institutes all over the country and the best poster award was won by Amartya Chowdhury of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Kolkata.

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The conference was witness to a Felicitation Ceremony honouring all those individuals who had made a pioneering contribution to the cause of sustainable energy development through the solar route. These included S P Gon Chaudhuri, Spl. Secretary, and Director, WBREDA, Kolkata; Dr B Shivalingaiah, MD, KREDL, Bangalore; Hemant Lamba, Head, Auroville Centre for Scientific Research, Auroville; Harish Hande, MD, Selco Solar Light (P) Ltd., Bangalore; Bunker Roy, Founder, Barefoot College, Tilonia, Ajmer; Rajeeva Swarup IAS, Chairman & Managing Director, Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation, and D T Barki, Chairman & Managing Director, Noble Energy Solar Technologies Ltd, Hyderabad.

The Chief Guest for the valedictory session was the Minister of State for Non-Conventional Energy (Independent Charge), Govt. of India, Mr Vilas Muttemwar. During his valedictory address, the RE sector in the country has recorded a vibrant growth rate of 25% during the 10th plan period as against a target of 10% and his ministry is now targeting 14,000 MW during the 11th plan period. The Ministry has proposed an outlay of Rs 500 crore for providing support to the RE industry during the 11th plan period and this would be utilised for providing partial support for R&D, soft loans for setting up manufacturing facilities and upgrading the quality assurance mechanism for PV products. He hoped that all these would boost the growth of solar energy industry in the country. The Minister also unveiled the ‘Proposed Policy Roadmap for Solar Energy Development in India’ prepared by ABPS Infrastructure Advisory, knowledge partners for ‘Solar India 2007’. A high-level Core Group would pursue implementation of this policy package and explore regulatory avenues for market expansion through the state electricity regulatory commissions.

More than 30 exhibitors from the solar sector including solar equipment manufacturers, service providers, major deployers, investors, financiers, component suppliers, state nodal agencies, publishers, media, etc., from all over the country and abroad took part in the exhibition held in connection with the conference. The exhibition offered a unique opportunity to national and international professionals to showcase their profile and range of products. The exhibition drew an enthusiastic response and demonstrated state-of-the-art technologies, R&D, and major innovations and applications in the solar energy sector.