India's first solar-powered island: Diu is setting an example for the rest of the country

It’s a hot afternoon in Diu. The sleepy island, with just over 50,000 people, is among the top 10 least populated districts in India. And it shows. The beaches are clean and quiet. Waterfront promenades are deserted — so are the markets. Even booze shops, which get droves of weekend visitors from dry Gujarat next-door, are desolate on a Wednesday. But Diu is much more than that — it is India’s first solar-powered island.

The secret lies in Fudam where a barren stretch of land soon gives way to a silvery expanse. It is not the sea. It is layer upon layer of solar panels glinting in the sunlight. This is Diu’s 9 MW solar park, spread over 50 acres. The solar park, built in two phases since 2016 and at a cost of Rs 62.48 crore, is helping the district of Diu, part of the Daman & Diu Union territory, get on the green map of the country. From importing all the electricity it needed from Gujarat, Diu now generates power to meet all its day-time needs. Solar now meets close to 30% of its daily electricity requirements.

Along with solar, Diu is also exploring wind energy. By 2019, it prepares to set up windmills that generate 6.8 MW. When that happens, not only will Diu be energy self-sufficient but it will also be entirely from renewable sources.

Hemant Kumar, district collector, Diu, says: “Early this year, we were picked as part of India’s Smart City mission. Renewable energy is one of the many steps we are taking to get there.”

It was in 2012 that Diu first thought of solar power. “We had certain obligations to install solar energy. Also, we had barren land available,” says Milind Ingle, executive engineer, electricity department, Daman & Diu. Further, Diu was spending Rs 80 lakh a month to get power from Gujarat. Since electricity had to be transported through 25-30 km of transmission lines, supply voltage was affected. “Instead of 66 KV we only got 59-60 KV. So, dim light at homes was routine,” says Ingle. The T& D losses, too, were relatively high at 12%.

The solar park has changed all that. T&D losses have come down to 7%. Not only do consumers now get 66 KV but they also pay less as the tariff has been revised downwards for all categories of consumers. For domestic consumers (consuming 51-100 units) rates have come down from Rs 1.80 per unit in 2016-17 to Rs 1.17 in 2017-18.

The leap in solar technology has seen cost efficiencies improving in a matter of years. The foundation stone of the first phase of the solar park, spread over 30 acres, was laid in 2014 with a capacity to generate 3MW at a cost of Rs 25.5 crore. The project was awarded to the PSU BHEL. When Diu put out the tender for the second phase in 2015, efficiencies had dramatically improved. While the capacity, at 6 MW, was double the earlier one, the second phase cost just Rs 36.98 crore and was spread over a smaller land parcel of 20 acres. The foundation stone was laid in 2016 and the contract was awarded to Indore-based Ujaas Energy Ltd.

Even the five-year operation and maintenance (O&M) contract was cheaper — while it cost Rs 1.57 crore in the the first phase, it was Rs 1.5 crore for the much larger second phase. “Technology and efficiency in the solar sector are improving rapidly. While in the second phase we did get the benefits of economies of scale. The efficiency of solar panels too had improved dramatically even as costs and the land required were much lower,” says district collector Kumar.

Energy from solar parks is supplemented by rooftop solar. Of the 119 government buildings in Diu, 79 have already installed solar panels, generating 1.27 MW annually. The government is now encouraging Diu residents to go for solar. They are given a subsidy of Rs 10,000-50,000 to install 1-5 KW of rooftop solar panels.

It is also planning to set up a 6.8 MW windpower project — costing Rs 51.6 crore and consisting of four windmills — by 2019. “Solar energy takes care of our day needs. For night, we still have to import from Gujarat. With windmill projects, we will be self-sufficient in our energy needs. All of it will be green, renewable energy,” says Kumar.

The Green Shine

A green energy wave is sweeping the world. Amid concerns about climate change, rising pollution and a surging oil bill, the world is embracing solar and wind energy and moving away from fossil fuels. The world renewable energy (solar and wind) capacity is 9,41,581 MW — up from 5,45,005 MW in 2013 — and is expected to touch 17,17,000 MW by 2022. Developing world, led by China and India, has been investing heavily in renewables.

Since 2014, when the NDA government came to power, India has substantially scaled up its renewable energy ambitions. The renewable capacity of India is 51,731 MW (solar and wind) more than double the capacity of 22,498 MW in 2013. India’s ambitious target is 1,10,791 MW by 2022.

Diu is a model for India’s renewable journey. But not every place has the advantages that it enjoys. “With a small population and enough land, Diu is a perfect place to go for solar and wind energy for its needs. This is fantastic progress,” says Vinay Rustagi, managing director of renewable energy consultancy firm Bridge to India.

Diu’s solar journey is part of a global trend. Islands, cut off from the mainland, often struggle to meet their energy needs. They have to ship in fuel and depend on polluting dieselpowered gensets. Now, Tesla is helping Kauai island in Hawaii build a 52 MW-hour solar battery and a 13 MW SolarCity farm. Similarly, Kodiak Island in Alaska fully runs its grid on wind and hydropower. Cape Verde, an archipelago off Africa’s northwest coast, has pledged to get all its electricity from renewable resources by 2025. In the wake of Fukushima disaster in 2011, Japan — constrained by landmass and dotted with islands — is building floating solar park islands. In Indonesia, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar is helping build a 200 MW floating solar plant. Dubai wants to meet 75% of its energy needs from clean power by 2050.

Diu’s energy bet aligns well with India’s focus on renewables. The country’s crude import bill is surging — from $70 billion in 2016-17 to $88 billion in 2017-18. The International Energy Agency says India will see the fastest growth in energy demand by 2040 — which gives a growing urgency to tapping renewables. An ambitious clean energy programme will also help the country take a leadership role in discussions around climate change.

Solar race is on in the country. Jamia Millia University in Delhi is going all solar by June. Villages in the interiors of Arunachal Pradesh are being brought under solar grid. Last year, Piyush Goyal announced that the prime minister’s constituency, Varanasi, will go 100% solar before 2025. Already, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, running mostly on diesel gensets, has aspirations to go all-green in near future. Its plan has run into trouble, though, as the solar tender awarded to Mahindra Susten last year has just been scrapped. “Power generated by diesel gensets is not only the dirtiest source of power but it is also the costliest. There are huge opportunities for India to go for green power,” says Rustagi.

Quality Matters

Meanwhile, experts suggest caution: quality of solar modules is important. “In India, there is lack of awareness of quality components and some are skimping on quality, which may lead to lower efficiency levels,” says Rustagi. Diu, small and connected to the Gujarat grid, is unique because both energy excess and deficit can be managed easily. “Diu is small but is demonstrating the potential of renewables in meeting electricity demand. However, this model has limitations for other regions,” says Shantanu Jaiswal, head of research, Bloomberg New Energy Finance. For example, Andaman & Nicobar Islands does not have grid linkages to the mainland and will have to figure out how to manage energy variability (for example, solar can only be produced during the day) and build some electricity storage systems or backup generation systems.

Today, 90% of solar modules are imported — mostly from China, apart from countries like Malaysia and Taiwan. “The price gap between Indian and imported modules has been high but narrowing of late. If India decides to impose anti-dumping duties or raise customs, then imported and domestic modules will reach price parity,” says Jaiswal.

The government must build strong linkages between its green energy thrust and Make in India mission to incentivize domestic manufacturing. Diu is just a start.

 Source- The Economic Times