New experiments needed in renewables: Solar Energy Corp MD Ashvini Kumar

SECI MD Ashvini Kumar talks about monitoring the quality of solar power modules, initiating solar-wind hybrid projects’s auction and auctioning 4,000 MW wind energy tenders every year

From SECI 150 MW solar-wind hybrid projects are planned this year, says Ashvini Kumar,MD, Solar Energy Corp.
From SECI 150 MW solar-wind hybrid projects are planned this year, says Ashvini Kumar,MD, Solar Energy Corp.

New Delhi: With India’s wind power tariffs following the solar route and falling to a record low, state-run Solar Energy Corp. of India (SECI) has been a catalyst for expanding the country’s green economy. Ashvini Kumar, managing director of SECI, believes that sub Rs3 per unit tariff for solar will become the new normal. In a conversation with reporters, Kumar talked about monitoring the quality of solar power modules supplied to India, initiating solar-wind hybrid projects’s auction aimed at round the clock electricity generation and auctioning 4,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy power-purchase contracts every year. Kumar also explained the public sector unit’s growth strategy in new areas such as battery storage and equipment manufacturing. Edited excerpts:

What is the way ahead for wind power projects?

If you look at wind, the main problem was how do you evacuate power because the states were saturated. Their STU (state transmission utilities) systems had technical limitations and they had problems otherwise as well. So while everyone was aware that only interstate evacuation of power can save the wind sector, no model was coming forward. In that scenario, the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) took a decision to push (the idea) and discussed it with the industry. Still, some of the industry people were not I would say very receptive to the idea and they had a lot of resistance…I think once there is a tender, a good part of the industry participated. That also has been really trendsetting.

Now the government thinks around 5,000-6,000 MW has to be added every year. This year the maximum of 5,400 MW of wind power generation was added. Through this route, the government I think wouldn’t mind going up to 4,000 MW of (wind) tenders (every year). Now, MNRE has written to all the states that we will bring more such wind tenders, you indicate your requirements. They are now trying to consolidate their demand so that the gap between the bids and issuing of LoAs (letter of awards) can be reduced. I think now they are proactive.

What has been discussed that may be two bids of 2,000 MW each shall be called for after a period of five to six months. If everything goes well, I think that’s the kind of vision. During the power minister’s conference in Vizag during 27-28 April, there is a plan that the PSAs (power supply agreements) or PPAs (power purchase agreements) can be signed for this. If that happens, then the date for next bid can also be declared.

You have mentioned that a sub-Rs3.00 per unit price for solar is possible. What is your outlook on wind power prices?

Wind is a different game. The reason is, it depends on the sites also…PLF (plant load factor). Those kind of things. I think very large dependence is there on such parameters…What is the evacuation cost? What is the PLF? That will determine. I think a lot of capacity is there.

Given the race to the bottom for solar power tariffs, concerns have been expressed about the quality of solar modules being supplied to India?

Regular monitoring has been happening. In all our tenders, we are ensuring through documentation at least that the quality of modules and things are good. In fact we are monitoring data also in terms of performance (of projects) and we very soon plan, not with the names of the projects to make that data public also, so that people know that in Rajasthan, in Madhya Pradesh or Andhra Pradesh, what is the performance of the modules? I think that will all happen…Everyone has echoed that. There has to be quality standards.

Have there been any concerns of late?

In some of our EPC (engineering-procurement-construction) projects, we have seen that some of the modules were not good. We asked them to change. And that has happened.

Which are the new initiatives that you are working on?

From SECI what we are planning this year is 150 MW solar-wind hybrid projects. We have identified a site in Andhra Pradesh and now we are doing the DPR (detailed project report) and things like that. This is with the World Bank support.

This has been tried at small levels in India but not at this scale.

Going forward what is the scale on which such hybrid projects will be constructed?

That has to be in giga watts because there are sites which have got good wind potential also and the solar potential is always there. So, I think that’s going to open up.

What is the rationale for such projects?

There are two factors. One is the ‘time of day’ generation. Solar power generation during day time and wind during the night also. Second is the month. While during rainy months, there is more wind power generation, it is less in other months. One directly seen benefit is the maximum utilization of the (electricity) evacuation system. If you are setting up (an electricity transmission network), you are using it only for eight hours, but you will be using that more. And also continuous power.

And in this the next element which has to come is storage. If you bit? some storage (capacity), it will further improve the quality of power.

What is happening on the storage front?

Something will happen on the storage front but the government has to provide that scale. The solar (power generation) happened because the government provided that scale…Some off grid projects will happen in storage like in Leh-Ladakh.

It has been stated that India’s solar power sector has been helping China’s manufacturing sector. What is the game plan there?

I differ on that. One is the oil sector where you need to have regular supplies. In this case I have imported whatever today that generates for 25 years. So it is not regular. Tomorrow, if China stops also, whatever plants have been set up can’t be harmed. So the dependency is only to the extent is initial. That’s there.

The second part is; we as a country have to see that there are different chains such as—manufacturing of polysilicon, manufacturing of wafers, manufacturing of cells, modules, etc. In the entire chain, we have to see what best suits for us for intervention. At what level we should enter? Whether at the polysilicon level, whether at the cell level, or whether at the module level is good enough?

Is that on your agenda?

Definitely and I would say as a country what we see is manufacturing and good advanced technology. That also needs to come to the country. As a country, we should have that focus to have better technologies. SECI should help in bringing better technologies through some of its projects…Some new experiments needs to be done and seen.

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