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Solar power output up 75% this year, but still only 1% of total

Solar, wind in India’s total power production 2016-17

Production of electricity from solar power is all set to rise 75% this year, while that from wind is on track to rise 51%, according to the latest numbers available with the ministry of new and renewable resources, government of India.

Despite this, the two will only account for less than 5% of the total power produced.

The higher production figures for solar are largely in line with the growth in installed capacity.

Total grid-connected solar power generation capacity is set to rise from about 6 GW in March 2016 to about 10 to 11 GW at the end of March, though that is well below the target of 12.7 GW.

Together, the power production from alternate sources will go up by 28% in the ongoing financial year, going by the trends seen in the ten months from April 2016 to January 2017. The financial year is due to end this month.

The overall growth rate for power production from alternate energy would have been higher but for a steep fall in the production of power from the burning of sugarcane bagasse, which is considered a ‘green’ source as sugarcane sucks up more carbon dioxide that is released at the time of the combustion of the waste material.

STILL MINUSCULE

Despite the hype surrounding the increasing generation capacity of solar and wind, the absolute power generation figures are far more modest.

For example, against India’s capacity to produce about 250 GW of power by burning coal, it has a capacity of about 28 GW of wind power and around 10 GW of grid-connected solar.

In other words, the wind capacity is equal to 11% of the total thermal capacity, while solar is 3.2%.

However, in actual production of electricity, both are even further behind.

For example, solar produced about 10.56 billion units (kWh) of electricity in India in the first ten months of this year and is likely to end up producing close to 13 billion units for the full year.

Assuming that the average capacity for the year is around 8.5 GW, this implies a production rate of about 1.52 billion units of power per GW. This also represents an efficiency (or load) of 17.5% — which is superior to the 14-15% seen in European countries.

However, these output numbers are dwarfed by the figures for coal-based powers.

The 250 GW of coal-power plants produced 827 billion units of electricity in the first 324 days of this year, implying that the are on track to outputting around 932 bln units for the full year.

In other words, though solar accounts for 3.2% of the capacity of thermal plants, the actual production this year is likely to be only 1.4% of their output.

This is because of the higher efficiency of coal plants, which can be run 24 hours a day. Per GW of capacity, coal plants are on track to produce 3.73 billion units compared to only 1.52 billion for solar and 1.79 for wind.

OVERALL ENERGY MIX

The numbers reveal that alternate sources of power are likely to contribute about 85 billion units out of the total 1276 billion units of power produced in India in 2016-17.

Within this, the share of solar will be a 1.02%, while wind will contribute 3.92%.

Large hydropower plants, which are also ‘renewable’ power, will contribute about 127 bln units or 10% of the total.

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