Raj Kumar Singh, minister for power and new and renewable energy, on measures to boost solar power generation and solar equipment manufacturing in India
New Delhi: Raj Kumar Singh, minister for power and new and renewable energy, is not shy of taking on challenges. The former home secretary and a 1975 batch Bihar cadre Indian Administrative Service officer, in an interview, speaks about bringing errant solar power developers to task, providing subsidies to kick-start manufacturing of domestic solar equipment, and making domestic manufacturing mandatory to be eligible to bid for solar tenders.
A member of Parliament from Arrah in Bihar, Singh also speaks about using India’s hydropower reservoirs to set up floating solar power projects and providing interest subvention to help bring down the cost of hydropower. Edited excerpts:
Your views on the allegations of sub-standard solar equipment being used here?
This is very important. We will have to find a solution. One thing is what gets commissioned is tested. The other thing that we can do is whatever has been commissioned gets checked at random. I will get it examined. I will get the quality of the panels and modules put up by developers examined at random. And wherever substandard modules etc. have been used, the developers will have to replace them and at the same time the developers will be issued a showcase notice to explain why they shouldn’t be blacklisted. If the sub-standard modules go beyond a certain tolerance limit, they will be blacklisted.
What are the broad contours of the solar manufacturing policy that is in the works?
There are three strands to the manufacturing policy.
The first one is that we plan to give capital subsidy of up to 30%. Now, this is something which has to go to the cabinet. It’s like MSIPS (Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme) but for renewables.
The second is that we are going to bid out 20 gigawatts (GW) for which the expressions of interest will come out in the next couple of days. And only those people can participate in the bid who undertake to set up manufacturing capability from polysilicon onwards.
This means, one will need to set up a manufacturing unit of a particular size, right from the ingot stage to the module stage and only then they will be able to participate in that bid. And the third is that we have huge dams and reservoirs with huge surface area.
We are going to again bid out those, where one can set up floating solar projects of 10-15GW, so that you don’t have to acquire the land. Again, only those companies that will set up manufacturing facilities can participate. The advantage with that is, since those projects will be at the dam site, power evacuation will not be a problem.
The second thing is that, we will give them facility for banking.
With the dam being there, the balancing facility from hydropower will be there. So, they will get plentiful cheap power, which is the major requirement for solar equipment manufacturing.
What is the thrust area for the new hydropower policy?
Due to the high capital cost, we will have to think of some sort of an interest subvention to make it affordable. Right now, the cost of capital for hydel plants comes close to Rs8 crore per megawatt. Because of that the tariff is high. We will have to go the cabinet for it.
How will the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles evolve?
We are going to bring a provision in the law so that whoever wants to set up a charging station, they can apply and get a deemed distribution licence… If discoms want to do it, they can also get into the charging business.
Any specific focus area?
I believe that any modern developed country, as we want our country to be, can’t live in a situation where you have load-shedding and power cuts where large areas go without electricity.
Now, we are expanding electricity coverage. That is my primary objective. While you have given a licence to a discom to serve crores of people, it is left to their will who to give power to and when. This can’t happen. People have rights.
We are going to build it into the law that if you resort to gratuitous load-shedding, you have to pay a penalty and the penalty will be heavy. Disruption of supply on account of acts of god is acceptable. But gratuitous load-shedding is not… So, if you have taken a licence to serve an area, you better serve it.
For this it is necessary that discoms become and remain viable. And that is some distance that has to be travelled. Now, what is happening is that many discoms are running at a loss.
Our strategy here is universal metering. The whole system will be metered—feeder, transformer, and consumer. And the metering will be smart metering, so that you take over the human element. This is one leg. Smart meters will be in prepaid configuration, except for big consumers where they will be post-paid. And largely, we have found that once you take away the human element, 99% of people pay.
Second, at the distribution end, wherever possible, we will go in for the franchisee model. That will create employment.
The third thing, in my view, is if you want to give subsidy to any sector, do so. But do direct benefit transfer. There is a limit to cross-subsidies.