The Ministry of Earth Sciences is in the process of formulating a policy to charge solar and wind energy companies that it provides weather data to. The policy is likely to be announced in another months’ time, say officials, adding that the same is being formulated keeping in mind the expected surge in production of renewable energy over the next few years.
The ministry has so far been providing data for wind and solar to companies for free. “Most of the data and information that we provide is for free. Such as information on hurricanes, even to neighbouring countries. But this is on humanitarian grounds. There is no reason why this should be done for private companies and so we are bringing in a policy to charge them for the services that they use,’’ explains Dr M Rajeevan, Secretary in the Earth Sciences Ministry.
The Ministry provides this data to both private companies as well as PSUs and government institutions. A pilot project had been launched in 2008 in which the ministry tied up with one private company to which it would provide data. Since then, the ministry provides data to a host of private concerns with which it has memorandums of understanding and has been working at making its predictions more accurate.
According to the data of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the cumulative capacity of grid-connected solar projects has jumped over the years – up to 2010 the cumulative capacity was 11.35 MW which increased to 35.93 MW in 2010-11. In 2018-19, this cumulative capacity became 28,180.68 MW. As of December 2019, India has a solar energy installed capacity of 34 GW with a plan to increase it to 100 GW by 2022. Similarly, it has an installed capacity of 38 GW wind energy with plans to increase this to 60 GW by 2022.
“Over the past few years, there has been a huge boost as well as increased investments in renewable energy. The International Solar Alliance was launched in 2017 and we expect an increased production of power through wind and solar over the coming decade,” says Dr Raghvendra Ashrit of the National Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting under the Earth Sciences Ministry that provides this data and is working on the policy.
“While we have become very accurate with our forecasting and have large reserves of data collected over the past 15 years, we will need to become more and more accurate over the coming years. Off-grid solar production, such as that used for solar lamps etc which are used locally doesn’t require forecasts. But if power is to be produced through renewable energy to be integrated into the grid, the prediction needs to be incredibly precise for the grid to function efficiently,” explains Dr Ashrit. “A solar/wind power company needs to inform the grid well in advance as to exactly how much power they will send to the grid, so that the grid managers can accordingly reduce the use of coal thermal and hydropower energy on those particular days. And the ultimate goal is to eventually reduce the consumption of coal,’’ Dr Ashrit points out that with this in mind, the policy will also carry a penal provision against companies that have not been able to supply the promised quantity of power. The penal provision provides for a threshold error of 7 per cent, where the penalty will not apply.
In 2005, the India Meteorological Department invested in a massive upgradation drive and forecasts have been more accurate than ever with the IMD having predicted the last few cyclones and super cyclones with great accuracy leading to timely evacuations and minimum loss of lives. The data provided by the ministry will also help companies identify appropriate locations to set up plants.
While India has great potential for both solar and wind energy plants, there are pre-requisite conditions for the efficient production of energy. For instance, while a lot of sunshine is required for the production of solar power, this can only be done if the temperature is not unreasonably high. Ladakh is one of the preferred destinations in this regard, with ample sunshine but cool temperatures.
The country also has great potential for the production of wind energy, and in this regard, off coast energy production of the coasts of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have been explored by the Indian government, which has carried out resource mapping.