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Can Andaman & Nicobar make the leap forward?

India
Typography

Many a hurdle needs to be crossed before the Indian archipelago can get started on shifting solely to renewable energy, writes Twesh Mishra

The union territory of Andaman and Nicobar, comprising around 550 palm lined tropical rainforest islands, is planning to join the elite club of islands...


Many a hurdle needs to be crossed before the Indian archipelago can get started on shifting solely to renewable energy, writes Twesh Mishra

The union territory of Andaman and Nicobar, comprising around 550 palm lined tropical rainforest islands, is planning to join the elite club of islands powered solely by renewable energy.

But unlike the island of Ta’u in American Samoa that runs solely on a solar energy microgrid that at 1.4 MW can cover almost its entire electricity needs, the A&N islands will require much more energy to make the transition. In comparison to Ta’u, A&N will need at least 54 MW of solar power generation capacity to meet the current peak demand of power in the island. And there are still question marks about whether the islands will be able to achieve such an ambitious goal.

In Ta’u it is not just 5,328 solar panels that keep the show going. They are backed up by 60 Tesla power packs that provide 6 megawatt-hours of energy storage, which can keep the island running for three days without sunlight.

To come close to a similar reality, A&N has been working closely with the Centre and private players to develop a storage-linked clean energy ecosystem. There are, however, many loose ends in the government’s vision that still need to be addressed before the project materialises.

Replicating the pilot

But many are hopeful. The Andaman project is unique and will be a bellwether for more microgrid projects, according to Interim Director General of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), Upendra Tripathy. Speaking to BusinessLine, he said, “We have a special program under the International Solar Alliance on ‘scaling up mini-grids and microgrids’. It is based on the Andaman pilot project and mini-grid projects in Sunderbans.”

ISA, Tripathy informs, is now looking at multilateral and other banks, financial institutions and the corporate sector to fund similar microgrid and mini-grid projects and to popularise them in other countries. It hopes A&N will show the way.

According to World Wide Fund - India’s director, climate change and energy, T S Panwar, solar power with storage will provide a huge fillip to the scaling up of renewable energy in the country, especially in remote regions. “It would have benefits in terms of better air quality, reduced health impacts, and ecological benefits, thereby reducing pressure on local natural resources and biodiversity, and overall carbon emissions. If robust systems and processes could be set up during the Andaman & Nicobar project, they would have scope for wide replication in other large scale projects in the country as well,” said Panwar.

The bids story

The bids for this storage-linked solar power project have been called by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), a public sector undertaking and the country’s largest power generation entity. Under the project proposal, NTPC seeks to set up a 6 MW, 24 Mwh battery energy storage system at Manglutan in South Andaman.

The energy conglomerate has also called bids to develop 3.2 MWh of battery energy storage system at Chidiyatapu in A&N. The 24 MWh storage system will be powered by a 17 MW grid-connected solar PV project in Manglutan. And the 3.2 MWh battery storage system will cater to the 8 MW grid-connected solar PV project in Chidiyatapu.

According to Tarun Bhatia, Managing Director of Kroll India, a New York-based risk assessment firm, “The project in Andaman is ambitious. At 17 MW, NTPC’s project is quite large in size. As per public research, a project in Ohio, USA, with 7 MW storage capacity was considered one of the largest in their country.”

Challenges aplenty

While the foundation stones for the solar power generation projects have been laid, the storage part is not having a smooth run. Bids for the storage systems have been extended twice. They are now slated for August 24 as bidders are opposed to the 25 year maintenance clause that figures in the bids for the battery systems.

Challenges apart, the high cost of power in the A&N Islands multiplies the feasibility of setting up a storage linked solar energy hub. According to the ‘Power for All’ document signed between the A&N administration and the Centre, the peak load during financial year 2015-2016 was 58 MW. This was met through an installed power generation capacity of 109.45 MW during the fiscal 2015-2016. Out of this, the total installed diesel run generation (DG) capacity was at 99.10 MW, hydro based generation was at around 5.25 MW and solar PV generation was at 5 MW.

Cost is the key

The dependence on diesel run power generators translate to supply costs as high as ₹28.02 per unit in the financial year 2015-2016. The tariffs are heavily subsidised down to ₹2.8 per unit for domestic consumers and ₹6.7 per unit for commercial users.

The A&N administration projects an increase in dependence of government subsidy from ₹491 crore in financial year 2015-2016 to ₹548 crore in fiscal 2018-2019. Comparably, the average price of power on the energy exchange on the mainland is closer to ₹1.50 per unit without any subsidy.

“In our field visits, we found potential for mainly biomass based power systems and solar energy,” says Paltu Acharjee, Fellow and Area Convener of Renewable Energy Technology Applications at TERI. “There were few challenges in terms of both these types of renewable energy primarily due to the challenging demography of the islands. Due to the high dependence of diesel run gensets, the cost of generation was upwards of ₹15 per unit, and as high as ₹22 per unit at some locations. This boosts the prospects of a solar linked storage set up there.”

Regarding wind energy, which many feel should suit the island eco system, research from the National Institute of Wind Energy says otherwise. It estimates a potential of 2 MW of wind power generation capacity if a very liberal 2 per cent of the land mass is dedicated for it. In other States, the potential for wind energy has been estimated keeping 0.5 per cent of the land mass in mind.

According to A&N administration’s estimates, the South Andaman Island has a maximum potential of 7 MW of wind power generation, much lower than the solar potential. The other islands of the archipelago have been declared to have low potential for wind energy. Project developers too have junked the proposals to develop standalone wind energy generation on the islands. Hence, the islands plan focuses on solar. A&N currently has 10.5 MW of installed renewable power generation capacity. By 2020, it aims toscale it up to 106.75 MW of RE generation capacity.

The writer was supported by the WWF-India Young Climate Media Fellowship Programme 2017 for the story

(This article was published on August 15, 2017)

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