- Jharkhand has one of the lowest installed capacities of renewable energy in eastern India with 97 Megawatt of clean energy production capacity.
- The government, in a 2015 policy document, had aimed for 2,650 MW of solar energy by 2020. So far, it has not met even half this target. In the latest state Solar Policy of 2022, the state government has revised the target to be 4,000 MW of installed capacity of solar energy in the next five years.
- Lack of large scale private investments, shortage of available land for clean energy projects and other reasons have limited the growth of clean energy in Jharkhand, compared to other states.
- The state has now also planned a 100 MW floating solar plant, 80 MW solar park and revised its solar policy to increase the production of clean energy in the state.
Sitaram Oraon, a tribal farmer in the Ghagara block of Gumla district in Jharkhand, grows watermelon, potato and other crops on his farm. He uses solar powered energy to irrigate his land, a shift from the diesel and kerosene-run water pump that he used a few years ago.
Besides the polluting emissions of using diesel and kerosene, the uncertainty of availability and transporting them regularly from the market, posed as challenges. Oraon started using a solar operated pump around four years ago. “Now we are getting the power to run our water pumps round the year and there is no emission too. Even the operating charges have reduced by around 30 percent,” Oraon told Mongabay-India from his farm, covered with the green leaves of watermelon plants. The farm is located close to the road that connects his village to the state capital of Ranchi.
In Ranchi, around 100 kilometres from the farms of Gumla, is Raj Bhavan, the official house of the governor, which is also powered by solar energy. Last year, the Jharkhand Renewable Energy Development Agency (JREDA) installed a 70 kilowatt solar rooftop plant at the government building.
These are two of the many examples of solar energy being used in Jharkhand. Despite these instances, penetration of renewable energy across the state remains low as Jharkhand is gradually transitioning from coal-based thermal power to cleaner sources of energy. According to latest data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), up to March 31 this year, Jharkhand has a total of 97.14 Megawatt of installed capacity of power from renewable energy sources (RES), which makes up 3.5 percent of the 2734.64 Megawatt of installed capacity of power utilities in the state. Moreover, in the eastern Indian region, Jharkhand has the lowest installed capacity of renewable energy, after Sikkim. Neighbouring states in the region such as West Bengal (586.95 MW), Bihar (387.35 MW) and Odisha (617.09 MW) fare better.
The state, in its 2015 State Solar Policy had targeted to achieve a total of 2,650 Megawatt of solar energy by the end of 2020. However, even in 2022, the state has failed to achieve even half of its target. In the latest State Solar Policy of 2022, the government revised the rules and targeted to achieve 4,000 Megawatt of renewable energy through a new roadmap.
State push and new solar policy
Jharkhand, while on one hand hosts the country’s largest coal reserve and is a key contributor towards the generation of thermal energy, on the other also suffers from the shortage of energy and is still dependent on other states for electricity, including solar energy.
With the revised Solar Policy of 2022, the government is giving a push to clean energy, especially solar energy. Under the new policy, it is targetting solar parks of 1700 MW capacity, floating solar (900 MW), solar canal top (400 MW) and solar rooftop (250 MW) in total in the next five years. It also plans to make 1000 solar villages with the help of decentralised and standalone small-scale solar plants.
“Although we have not been able to tap clean energy to a greater scale, soon the conditions are likely to change if all goes well. We are now working on some mega scale projects to boost growth of the sector in the state. State’s first floating solar plant of 100 MW is all set to come at Getalsud dam in Sikandri in Ranchi district. This is in the bidding process as of now. We will also make a solar park of 80 MW although divided in four locations with 20 MW capacity of each unit due to paucity of available land for large projects. Solar Energy Corporation of India Limited (SECI) is also involved in this project,” a senior official from JREDA told Mongabay-India requesting anonymity.
The official also added, “There are changes happening on the ground. Earlier the growth of Centre’s PM-KUSUM scheme was very less in the state but in the last few years Jharkhand has come among the leading states in terms of coverage and number of farmers benefited under this scheme.” By the end of December 13, 2021, the state had seen the setting up of 6711 solar water pumps for irrigation of farmlands under the scheme which are owned by the farmers. Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM KUSUM) scheme refers to Indian federal government’s scheme of giving subsidised solar pumps to farmers, using barren land of farmers to produce solar energy under the three components of the scheme, making the farmers producers of solar energy besides using the same for their captive needs.
The JREDA official also talked about the different sets of incentives and hand-holding support the new Solar Policy of 2022 is likely to give to the solar developers to boost solar energy in the state. Experts working in the sector also claimed that the new Solar Policy is likely to give an impetus to the sector and results could be seen in the days to come.
Ramapati Kumar is the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED) and based in Ranchi. He told Mongabay-India, “If you compare the earlier policies and current one, the latter is more advanced as it was formed after analysing what things didn’t work in the past and checking the bottlenecks. The government has now made the year-wise achievable targets too. The roles of different stakeholders have been defined well. Availability of land had been a big problem for states like Jharkhand. The policy tries to tackle the issue by talking about land banks, creation of special purpose vehicles for such issues to attract private investments in the sector.”
Kumar added that provisions of single window clearance, mentioning of starting and completion dates of solar projects, exemption of solar projects from environmental clearance, provisions for carbon credit and carbon pricing could lead to better growth of industries in the sector to pave the way for the growth of renewable sources of energy in the state.
Nevertheless, besides the government’s push, some selected private companies too are investing in the state to boost clean energy penetration. Tata Power has planned to set up 21.97 MW of solar energy plants in Jamshedpur which will include rooftop panels, floating solar and ground-mounted plants. Similarly, Chotanagpur Green Energy Development Private Limited planned 1.2 MW of solar photovoltaic (SPV) at Sikidiri in Ranchi district. On the other hand, philanthropic organisations such as Mlinda Charitable Trust have already established around 1 MW of decentralised solar mini grids in total in Gumla district alone.
On the technology front, JREDA has also started using sensor based technology to keep a tab on all the solar assets in the state to monitor any defect and make repairs of those assets timely. However, it is now connecting all its solar assets in phased manner but claimed that it could help them to prevent any solar plant from becoming a sick unit due to lack of maintenance and monitoring. Reaching out to rural hinterlands with low telephone signal connectivity through such a system is still a challenge for JREDA.
Challenges in state for RE growth
A 2020 assessment of energy in rural Jharkhand, conducted by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy claims that the state has a potential of 18.80 Gigawatt of solar energy. State’s own assessment claims that with more than 300 days of solar radiation and its geography, growth of solar energy could be easily tapped.
Researchers and experts in the field however have noted that there are several challenges that continue to limit the penetration of renewable sources of energy.
“There are a lot of rural areas in Jharkhand which are suffering due to either erratic power supply or untouched by electricity. In many such areas the government or selected private agencies tried to use solar mini grids to provide power but many areas are still deprived of any such intervention and are suffering,” Vagisha Nandan, Programme Manager at Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP) in Ranchi told Mongabay-India.
She also said that financing of solar projects from financial institutions had always been an issue which has proved a deterrent in the growth of renewable sources of energy in the state. Nandan also talks about failure of many rural solar plants caused by lack of maintenance and the low paying capacity of the local population of the state who are primarily dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.
According to the state’s latest state economic survey, a total of 80 percent of the state population is still dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Jharkhand is also among the poorest states in India with the lowest per capita income, notes the report.
Vijay Shankar, an energy expert working in Jharkhand for around seven years told Mongabay-India that conditions in the state are favourable for solar energy, which is the primary focus of the state as compared to wind energy which is not feasible in the state whereas biomass energy from farm wastes has limited success.
Shankar also put into perspective how Jharkhand is faring on clean energy compared to the western Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. “Compared to these western Indian states, the intensity and variation of solar radiance is not good enough in Jharkhand due to which the same amount of solar plants are likely to produce a bit lower energy in the state when compared to such units in western Indian states. The state also cannot support large hydro projects due to lack of perennial rivers. Out of the 12 rivers in the state only two are perennial. So not big scale but small scale hydro projects are feasible and have potential,” he said.
In addition to natural resource reasons, some experts have said that the stressed discoms (distribution companies) of Jharkhand were among the reasons behind lack of mega private investments in the sector. “Many private investors are reluctant to invest in the sector here because of the debts that the discoms are under. Such conditions are not favourable for investors or lenders looking to invest in areas where timely payment from the energy sector could be delayed or become complex. Lack of transmission line infrastructure is also a reason for the poor growth of the sector in the state,” an expert on energy transition from Ranchi told Mongabay-India.
A 2020 study by Diksha Bijlani claimed that the state also failed to abide by the Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPOs). The same study also pointed out at the understaffing of JREDA, slower renewable energy deployment and poor monitoring of their RPO obligations. Under the Electricity Act 2003 and the National Tariff Policy 2006, governments are bound to purchase a certain portion of their total electricity consumption from renewable sources of energy which is known as RPO.
A researcher working on energy transition requesting anonymity said, “Land availability for large projects had been an issue for Jharkhand. Although the government has allowed taking tribal land too for solar projects by giving solar projects industry status. However, there is a lack of large scale private investments which could increase the clean energy share in the state. The state has three subsidiaries of Coal India Limited (CCL). Many of these mining companies are now also moving slowly into clean energy business but most of these are investing in western Indian states for manufacturing and other works due to better pro-industry policies.”
Banner image: A woman passes by a solar mini grid near Basua village in Gumla district in Jharkhand. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.