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Why is India developing solar power so slowly?
3 December 2009
With all eyes on India's geopolitical strategy for Copenhagen, Oxford University researchers argue that India should be developing its 'apparently appropriate' solar energy technology and asks why, despite the Indian Prime Minister's recent commitment to a solar vision, it is favouring coal - the dirtiest option - instead.
The lead author of the Special Article for Economic and Politics Weekly, Professor Barbara Harriss-White from Oxford University's Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, writes that issues like intellectual property rights are distracting the attention of the international community from the real problem. Professor Harriss-White and co-authors Sunali Rohra and Nigel Singh argue that 'institutional complexity, low status [of solar power] and lack of finance' are where the real problems lie. '
The first step is to understand the institutions, from the outcomes of which negotiations and power relations may be deduced,' say the researchers who outline the political, financial and institutional hurdles that are currently standing in the way of real engagement with solar power as a viable major new source of energy in India.
India's demand for primary energy is expected to triple from 400 million tonnes of oil equivalent (m toe) to 1,200 m toe by 2030. Its consumption of electricity is expected to triple from its current 660 kilowatts per head to 2,000 kilowatts. Currently three quarters of this electricity is generated from coal - the dirtiest form of energy. The Oxford research team says: Coal is 'justified as the resource of preference for India's growth not only because of huge reserves under state monopoly control, but also because of the legitimacy and immediacy of the objective of poverty eradication.
' Yet, the article adds: 'While coal is extolled and the threat of its emissions are used as a bargaining chip in India's negotiations leading to the Copenhagen conference, solar energy has the estimated physical potential for 94 per cent of India's additional electricity needs by 2031-32.'
They highlight 'the curious result' that despite three decades of institutional development for renewables, solar energy at present supplies just 0.75 per cent of India's electricity. Just 5 per cent of India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy budget is devoted to solar under the current five-year plan. Meanwhile, they point out that fossil-fuel-based electricity generation receives 'a very large set of public support and subsidies.
' Having planned for six per cent of solar power in the energy mix by 2031-2, in August the Indian government announced a revised target to achieve 25 per cent by 2040 - but only on condition that it was aid-funded.
The conclusion reached by the Oxford research team is that 'India's international political initiatives may be misconceived with respect to technology transfer'. They found that intellectual property rights are not the real barrier to the expansion of solar technology, and aid based on this as a tool for technology transfer is not necessary. They ask instead for a debate about the subsidies and support that are currently propping up fossil-fuel, hydro- and nuclear power in India, and suggest that to succeed solar power needs a level playing field.
The research highlights the lack of finance and backing in India for entrepreneurs wanting to develop new forms of energy, finding that high interest loans and the fact that 'finance is the preserve of public banks for public sector initiatives or international development banks and aid agencies' are other major problems hampering progress.
The fragile institutional life of solar energy has been not so much a process of technical choice, but rather a painfully drawn-out process of resistance by entrepreneurs in private and public sectors who are marginalised within their own elites,' the article concludes.
For more information or the full article, please contact the University of Oxford Press Office on +44 (0) 1865 280534 or email email@example.com