New Delhi, 21 March (G’nY News service): In 2011 India pledged to convert 60 cities into ‘solar cities’ to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, in 2015 we are nowhere close to the target. To begin with, it is surprising that the solar city norms have never been questioned, much like the rural electrification clause. And more astounding is the fact that cities not even meeting the prescribed mandate are awarded the model solar city status without a qualm, by the nodal Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).
The solar city initiative in India aims at minimum 10 per cent reduction in demand of conventional energy at the end of five years, through a combination of enhancing supply from renewable energy sources in the city and energy efficiency measures. From a layman’s perspective, one would assume that a solar city is an urban area that is fully, or at least mostly, reliant on alternate sources of energy.There is however, no justification for a 10 per cent mandate.
Moreover, when energy efficiency is added to the mandate it minimises the importance of renewable as the major source of energy. Where countries world over are moving towards a 50 per cent renewable mandate, Indian cities are offering a diluted 10 per cent. But, according to an article, ‘Solar cities: Long on ambition, short on action’, published in the Times of India, March 2, 2015, the plan has not even “crossed the drawing board stage”.
(Photo courtesy: http://chandigarhmetro.com/)
UrjaVikas Nigam (UVN), a PSU in charge of implementation of the solar city project in Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior, Jabalpur and Rewa), has received a token amount of Rs. 10 lakh as seed money for a solar city cell while Kochi received Rs. 19.42 lakh for ‘master planning’ (IndianExpress, ‘Funds released for solar city’, March18, 2015).
Internationally a ‘solar city’ is a broad term that can encapsulate many different initiatives, activities, and technologies. Generally, it implies renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport options, new urban planning methods or goals, architectural innovation, and environmental health. Definitions of ‘solar (or sustainable) cities’ by the International Solar Cities Initiative, a non-profit organisation, and the European Solar Cities Initiative (ESCI)an umbrella organisation for different actions in the urban energy sector, include a ‘climate-stabilization’ aspect, whereby cities responsibly set per-capita targets for future greenhouse-gas emissions at levels consistent with stabilizing future levels of atmospheric carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases.In comparison, the solar city initiative in India seems ill thought out.
A most worrisome account came forth in a chance conversation of our correspondent with Ravinder Singh, Project Director at Chandigarh Renewal Energy Science and Technology (CREST) Promotion Society. In July, 2013 Chandigarh was officially tagged by MNRE as India’s model solar city (Indian Express, July 4, 2013). Recently the city was also awarded a fund of 31.9 crore for works on smart energy solutions (Times of India, ‘Budget 2015 – Solar city scheme gets big boost’, March 1, 2015).
In an attempt the explain the solar city mandate, Singh said that, “A solar city is one that is self-sufficient and self-reliant….has the ability to generate its own energy through a combination of renewable energy sources like solar, hydro, biomass, and etc.” And as question about 10 per cent reduction in the use of conventional energy in Chandigarh was posed to him, he replied, “ No….that will be completed by the year 2020 once we are up to 30 MW production, as of now we are at 5MW.”
Bewildered, we tried to clarify whether Chandigarh will be called a solar city once that target is achieved, he asserted that, “No, Chandigarh is already considered a solar city.”
There is a very apparent and obvious disconnect between the government’s terminology, their targets, and what is actually being done when it comes to the solar city initiative in India. It is perhaps time that MNRE makes it mandates clearer, so that renewable energy, a mandate close to the heart of event the Prime Minister of this nation, does not become a sham.