Interview

Mr. Deepak Gupta, Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy belongs to 1974 batch of the Indian Administrative Service. A Post Graduate in History from St. Stephan’s College and M. Phil in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, he did a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School, Harvard University in 1992 as a Mason Fellow. He has worked in different areas in Centre and State Government including a deputation to India Trade Centre, Brussels, as Adviser (Jute & Coir) in the 1980’s. He also served as Adviser with the World Health Organisation in Delhi in 2004. He is Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy since July, 2008. Below is an exclusive interview with InSolTherm Times.

Q. Solar Water Heaters (SWHs) are commercially viable commodity now as per several manufacturers and they demand that subsidy may be removed?
A: SWHs are commercially viable at places where hot waster requirement is throughout the year. Such places include Bangalore & Pune where some manufactures have asked for removal of subsidy. At other places, where hot water requirement is for few months in year, people require subsidy to make it financially viable and at these places the manufacturers have never asked for removal of subsidy. The general demand is for subsidy. And we need to upscale substantially.

Q. There are also concerns expressed regarding timely subsidy disbursal by several manufacturers?
A: In the new off-grid scheme on solar energy, we have opened the route of implementation of the programme through various channel partners including manufacturers. These manufacturers accredited by the Rated Agencies can avail subsidy directly from MNRE which otherwise was through State Nodal Agencies. This process will help in timely disbursal of the subsidy. Beneficiaries would get systems at a price less subsidy.

Q. Offering soft loan through Banks was successful. Why was it discontinued?
A: Soft loan through banks has not been discontinued. Rather, it is now being streamlined after the announcement of new off-grid scheme on solar energy. Since the scheme now provides re-financing to the banks for providing loan to customers at 5% rather than interest subsidy as was there in earlier scheme, it is presumed that banks will now take more interest in the programme. Change of financing pattern has, however, slowed down the soft loaning process which we feel will pick up very soon. Anyway, in the earlier scheme, only 20% of installations were through soft loans, which was not very satisfactory.

Q. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) targets 20 million m2 of collector area for low temperature application? What would be the real challenges for this to be achieved?
A: Major challenge for promotion of SWHs in the country has been the subsidy available on conventional fuels to users due to which users are getting electricity/ fuel oil/ LPG at low cost for heating water. Good sunshine availability throughout the year in most part of the country and shortage of electricity in many areas especially during peak hours of mornings when hot water is required are however, the big opportunities. Ministry is planning to have a big awareness campaign in coming years which we feel will certainly help in achieving the target 20 million sq. metre of collector area. We have already achieved 4.6 million sq. metre till date and are expecting to achieve 6 million sq. metre by March 2012. There is viable acceleration. Industries, commercial institutions and builders must come forward. There is a need for change of mind set. Manufacturers also need to do more to develop the interest and set up easy and usable service system.

Q. There is growing influx of cheaper evacuated tubes being imported and the effective systems are sold in the market for way below benchmark prices. Has MNRE planned to tackle this?
A: We have recently introduced some minimum technical requirements for installation of SWHs to be adhered to by all the manufacturers. This includes the type of Evacuated Tube Collectors (ETCs) which need to be of 3 larger selective coating and procured from reputed suppliers. These requirements have been developed for the information of users as well of manufactures. With these requirements, the users will be able to ensure that he gets a good quality system and would also be able to contact Ministry in case, he is not satisfied. As regard selling of systems below benchmark price, I think there should not be any problem as long quality is maintained. In fact, we expect cost reduction in JNNSM programme but not at the cost of quality which we propose to ensure through effective monitoring.

Q. What were the positive outcomes of the UNDP-GEF SWHS project so far?
A: Under the UNDP, GEF SWHP, we have been able to undertake various studies related to market assessment of SWHs in different sectors including Himalayan & National Capital Region (NCR) regions, development & implementation of suitable communication strategy, area based Energy Service Companies (ESCO) models, capacity building, organisation of awareness/ training programmes for various stakeholders including installers, dealers & suppliers etc. A specific website on SWHs is also under development and is going to start soon. An electronic newsletter on monthly basis and a Helpline on SWHs for the benefit of users has started recently. A number of knowledge products e.g. User’s handbook. Solar water heater calculator and a country map showing state wise installation done so far and available potential have also been brought out under the project. All these efforts have helped in raising the awareness & confidence level among users of solar water heating systems and thereby also increasing the installations.

Q. How would you summarise the overall development about solar water heater?
A: SWH is in promotion in the country for last two and a half decade. In the beginning, it was at demonstration stage. The designs were not perfect and it took a lot of time to come to a commercial level. Test standards & Centres for testing were developed which helped in developing efficient models. Awareness was poor and people were looking for reliable product with heavy subsidy from the Government. Manufacturers were also very few and scattered who could not provide after sale services.
Later finding the utility of the product, lot of improvements were made in designs by manufacturers which resulted in commercializing the technology. The Ministry also phased out the subsidy gradually and brought out a soft loan scheme through Banks/ Financial Institutions (FIs) assuming that the product may require consumer financing because of its high initial cost. We tried this with a few nationalised Banks but later realised that it needed to be expended to other Banks & FIs. Soft loan scheme was also changed to interest subsidy scheme with participation of all kinds of scheduled Banks/FIs. The scheme continued for about a decade. It was, however, noted that through the sale increased manifolds in subsequent years mainly in the regions like Karnataka & Maharashtra, the sale through Bank financing remained only 20 to 25%. It was also noted that if the product has to be sold all over the country even in areas where hot water requirement is for few months, people require some kind of direct subsidy which could be availed easily without any hindrance.
The new off-grid scheme has incorporated all such provisions, wherein the subsidy can be directly availed by the manufactures from MNRE who become its channel partners and beneficiaries will get the system at net of subsidy. The technology also has been standardized and made comparatively cheaper especially after the introduction of ETC based systems. We have about 100 manufactures in the country & many of them also have good after sale servicing network. During the year the annual sale has increased to around 1 million sq. metre of collector area as compared to 0.5 million sq. metre until 1993-94. We have so far done about 4.6 million sq. metre but should be able to achieve the target of 20 million sq. metre by 2022 with the kind of policy interventions in new off-grid scheme on solar energy.

Q. Allotting equal capacity for photovoltaics and solar thermal, the latter is quite ambitious given India has no operational solar thermal projects. Do you think this would be achievable?
A: We need to be technology neutral and provide opportunities for all to develop. So far thermal has a lot of potential. Let us see the situation after first few projects get operationalized. We also want to develop solar thermal for users other than power generation.

Q. Would the solar power projects be able to keep the timelines?
A: That is what they have agreed to. Discipline and professionalism are necessary. We must shed this approach of getting extensions. I see no reason why timelines cannot be adhered to.

Q. Would the problems faced on account of sandstorms and water shortages be an issue for solar thermal power projects to take up in India?
A: We will see after projects get operationalised.

Q. Banks claim solar power projects are high-investment, low-return project hence hesitant to hesitate to give loans despite solar payment security introduced by MNRE. Will MNRE be conducting any orientation programmes for Banks?
A: We are regularly conducting interactions with Banks. There is increasing understanding of technology and other issues.

Q. The first solar thermal air-conditioning demonstration project was recently commissioned? What are the chances of such a technology being commercialized?
A: Solar air-conditioning is very important for our country due to the reason that we generally require more cooling during the day time when sun is also there. Moreover, there are many places like office complexes, institutions and to some extent shopping Malls also which work during day time only. At such places solar air conditioning makes sense as not much storage is required for cooling after sun shine hours. The Ministry under Public Private Partnership R & D project with Thermax, Pune has been able to demonstrate one such system of 30 tonne capacity at Solar Energy Centre, Gurgoan using parabolic trough concentrators providing pressurized hot water to triple effect vapour absorption machine having high co-efficient of performance. Because of its unique features, it requires less land area and is able to take care of clouds if any for about an hour or so. The total cost of the system is around `90 lakh and it may be quite useful and viable at places where electricity tariff is high or diesel is being consumed to generate electricity/ heat for running the air conditioning machines. We propose to take up a few demonstration projects on this technology in different parts of the country where after we feel that it could b e widely promoted with some support from MNRE.

Q. What are the real challenges in solar thermal technologies that need to be addressed in India?
A: The real challenges in solar thermal technologies are their high cost installation of fool proof and qualitative systems, easy availability of after sale services along with financing from banks and subsidy from the Government. Ministry is addressing these issues and there is improvement in all areas. Consider what will happen if power shortages remain or increase and price of it goes up substantially. We must be ready with alternatives for such a situation.


Secretary, MNRE Mr.Deepak Gupta launching InSolTherm Times

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