Solar tales of the North-East : Assam’s solar projects

कल करे सो आज कर, आज करे सो अब। When it comes to solar power, Indian Government seems to have truly embodied the precept exhorted in this Kabir doha. India achieved its set target of 20 GW by 2018, four years ahead of its deadline, leading the government to renew its goal for 2022 – an ambitious 100 GW! Where does the North-east and, especially our protagonist state for today, Assam fare in all this?

Solar Power Assam

A look at Assam’s unique energy topography

As per the National Census of 2011, Assam’s household electrification level was 37%, while the national average was 67.2%. Electrification in the state faces multiple issues owing to insurgency, inaccessible terrain and frequent floods. In spite of this, the state achieved a staggering 96.8% village electrification by 2015. The state aims at 100% electrification by 2022 – 75 villages are proposed to be electrified by solar PV systems, thanks to the remote village electrification program.

As of 2017, Assam’s cumulative solar power capacity is 11.8 MW. Before you brush it off as scanty, recount that we cannot judge the north-eastern states by the criteria we use for the other states of the subcontinent. Not only is the per capita consumption of electricity of Assam just 258 kWh against the national average of 779 kWh, the state, as on 2017, had a total installed capacity (that is, the cumulative capacity from all power sources – conventional, hydro and renewable) of 1446 MW only.

What we arrive at is a picture of a land whose demands for electricity are much lower than the national average, albeit not without the unique challenges proposed by its topography and climate. That solar power, along with other renewable sources, can prove crucial to the state’s final phase of electrification expansion along with its avowed goal of energy self-sufficiency by 2022 is realized by the state authorities. After all, aren’t the final steps to our destination always the hardest to tread too?

Assam’s ongoing solar projects

MNRE(Ministry of New and Renewable Energy) has set a solar target of 663 MW by 2022 for Assam, 250 MW of which ought to be from solar rooftop systems. With the second phase of grid-connected rooftop solar program having been initiated in the nation by February 2019, Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) has also been given the green flag to continue in its own devised projects to expand solar energy plants. Let us have a look at some of the ongoing projects under APCDL.

1.    Solar park for Science – Chief Minister Sarbananda Sohowal has recently laid the foundation stone of the 70 MW Amguri solar park at Japisajia village, Sivsagar district. The 34-acre solar park would also cater to research and development in the solar energy arena. The proposal for developing grid-connected solar PV projects in the area was released by APDCL in January 2019. The projects are to be undertaken along the lines of the build-own-operate basis for 25 years, quite similar to how Minus CO2’s solar PPA functions.

2.    Solar for Social Sector– The tender for 7 MW grid-connected solar rooftop projects in the social sector – schools, medical institutions, colleges, government buildings, community centres, welfare homes, orphanages, senior citizen homes – was released in March, the deadline for which was 28 March 2019. These are to be developed along the RESCO ( Renewable Energy Service Company) model. Think of the RESCO model as the other name for solar PPA  projects. The techno-commercial bid opened on March 29, and the auction is to take place on April 2019.

3.    (Solar) Power to History(!)- In February, AUDCL invited bids to set up off-grid solar power plants in the major historical sites across the state. The work is expected to begin shortly. What to say, but ‘power to history’, solar at that!

4.    Solar power across State – Earlier, in 2018, AUDCL awarded 85 MW grid-connected projects across the state to two companies – 75 MW to Azure power and 10MW to Maheswari Mining and Energy Pvt. Ltd. 

Well, we cannot sign off without stating the most significant of facts pertaining solar power in Assam –those hailing from the state are eligible for an MNRE subsidy of 70%, as against the 30% capital subsidy for most regions of India, provided their projects fall under residential or social sector. We are certain that with such strong support from governments at Centre and State, the state will achieve its solar dreams by 2022, and ahead!