The Delhi government has just cleared a scheme this week, that entitles farmers with more than 6 acres of cultivated land to have solar panels installed FREE OF COST. The grid connectivity of generated power is quoted to “more than halve” their electricity bills from Rs. 9 to Rs. 4 per unit. Being a “green consultant” who has studied this development from India to Africa and elsewhere, I think this looks promising, bold and yet, very clever; certainly not without questions on modalities.
In saying this, I am by not writing this as a party supporter, but following and analysing application of technology, which has become a very essential part even in Indian politics given our PM’s strong sense of optimism in making India a world power in renewable energy has been welcome by industry. It is also a fact that measures taken by governments since liberalization and privatization of power/energy sector in 1990s have now made the country power SURPLUS, at least on paper but populist governments never seemed to hit the nail in transferring benefits of the growth surpluses to ordinary people, even farmers sans “subsidies” and populist schemes which make for election and achievement speeches of elected governments and leaders.
Also, I must point out that the Delhi government too, in announcing this scheme has not invented a new wheel, but adapted some very good points from policies of other developed and fast developing countries including China, Japan and Brazil. But surely, it couldn’t have been done without paying heed to much study and analysis undertaken by various bodies with offices right here in the Capital.
The other aspect is that despite all the stalemate we are reading of in newspapers about the rifts and frictions between the AAP government and the center via the LG and bureaucracy; I am personally seeing enough evidence of many of the local MLAs, MLCs having learnt to work around these rifts in mutual support, resulting in actual benefits of electricity betterments going to people – gradually. Power cuts to residents and businesses in Delhi too have reduced.
My firm conviction that “nothing helps other than a fight, when people must fight for betterment in loud and open voices, (less blood, of course!)” is paying in my optimism, even as it does not make ‘instant friends’ and leaves with question “which is better – a better society or better relations?”. This, also in a way, licenses my kinds, who also have a job to restrict or guide society through our roles as service professionals and consulting engineers and I realize, I am having to do a lot of that in recent times. Yes, I have done it before with good success at various stages of my careers as part of professional teams in multinational organizations; so the confidence only grows!
HOW DOES THIS MECHANISM WORK?
Firstly, since I have done good amount of work, study and research into policies for hydropower, wind energy and solar at different stages of my career; each of these three fields of energy are very drastically different in idea and implementation. That is why it has taken almost 3 decades for power privatization and each came in stages – solar, the last in its mass usage.
Solar is not as much engineering as hydropower; but pure cost economics that has depended heavily on cost of solar cells and panels to come down, but mostly on fact that mindsets to use SOLAR extend right inside your homes, not just government projects. These differences are huge!
In 22 years hydro tariff came down from Rs. 10 or lot more per unit generated to Rs. 4 and under presently. Wind Energy has been more of a plateau and took lot lesser number of years to come down in same cost slabs. Solar, being the one we can ‘grow’ and use at home has lot more complex economics though engineering it is pretty straightforward and even in Africa now, one can purchase it “off the shelves” from markets and departmental stores.
In US, Germany and rich countries the developers of Renewable Energy were actually farmers; but in India a farmer has been in news for all the wrong reasons recently – like, close to committing suicide just for seeds, weather, droughts and government apathy and in or around Delhi, for Land grabs, land mafia which too will be factors that cannot be overlooked!
These above aspects do give optimism in the economics from Delhi’s Solar Scheme for Farmers, but also raise doubts on its actuation. The newspaper announcement predicts the farmer application process activated over next 8 to 9 months and also quantifies the additional income per acre of solar installed land, which currently stands at Rs. 20k to 30k, to be around 6%per year for next 25 years (which will need more study and analysis).
But I see problems galore, as with all first announcements and hope they will have answers without too many ‘fine print clauses’ in cross references as “PLANS” go:
- What if and when this government changes? What are the certainties of these annual projections over next 25 years?
- How will the government guarantee that the application process is unbiased and not create innumerable middlemen and local strongmen who will in all likelihood find more opportunities to get rich themselves first; as happens in land and home buyer scams in around Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida?
- The vendors to supply and install these solar systems will be under government tendering. The modalities of tendering will again be put to lot of question.
- What guarantee that the center and oppositions during changing governments will not crush this whole optimism or make another story of religious and electoral mess as word ‘electricity’, ‘farmer’ and ‘land’ usually do around NCR mafia?
- The government sets electricity purchase rates from any generation source and location at different rates and schemes that are dependent on different ministries for each, which will have direct or indirect stake like, Food, Agriculture, Water, Power & Energy, Distribution, New & Renewable Energy. How long will that take, since the center is who is at apex of these?
- Finally – how much would it benefit and empower the “Farm Houses” of Delhi with notoriety for glam parties and political money laundering?
Having seen how my own job security in entrepreneurship has been threatened in EACH from hydro, wind, solar, biomass time and again as dependence on the “big 3 to 15 or so business houses” never ceases. So, probably my optimism which started from reading the news item that looks too realistically dreamy seems to be dwindling by the time I finish writing this.
But this is how the ENERGY profession always has been. Certainty comes after work and consultancy services from professionals like us are acceptable enough to give sustained optimism to those who matter – all for monetary gains. Surely the idea would be worth replicating this in assignments for other countries if and only IF it works for DELHI – and me!
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