India planning world's largest solar project

Sept. 23, 2013 at 1:34 PM
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NEW DELHI, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- The Indian government says it is planning the world's largest solar power plant in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.

The project will have a total power generation capacity of 4,000 megawatts, which is more than double the total solar power generation capacity in the country.

As part of Phase 2 of India's National Solar Mission, the government aims to have 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. There is now 1,759.43 megawatts connected to the grid.

"This will be the largest solar-based power project in the world. Being the first project of this scale ... this project is expected to set a trend for large-scale solar power development in the world," a government statement said.

The project -- to be located on 23,000 acres of land owned by the state-run Sambhar Salts Ltd -- would be set up and run by a joint venture of five public sector utilities: Bhel, Powergrid Corp. of India, Solar Energy Corp. of India, Hindustan Salts limited and Rajasthan Electronics & Instruments Limited, the statement said.

The first phase, for 1,000 megawatts, is slated for completion in three years.

When fully operational, the Sambhar plant will generate 6,000 units of electricity annually.

The government intends to sell solar power from the proposed plant for about 9 cents a unit, which would be the lowest rate for solar power in the country. The current cost of solar power in India is around 11 cents per unit.

The lower rate "would surely bring in buyers" Amit Kumar, associate director of PricewaterhouseCoopers India, told India's Economic Times newspaper. "Prior discussion with the government, distribution companies and the Ministry of Finance have yielded that solar power at this rate is most viable for finance and purchase," said Kumar, who is in charge of the firm's energy and utilities division.

The lower rate is also expected to serve as a benchmark rate for the Phase 2 of the national solar mission.

The Sambhar project, the Times reported Monday, is just part of a bigger plan for solar power in India.

India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy said the prime minister's office had already approved a plan to target the arid regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat for a solar park, the Times report states.

These "wasteland" areas, the ministry said, could produce 300,000 megawatts of electricity -- about the amount India consumed in 2012.

India currently relies mostly on coal-powered plants for power generation. Because of insufficient fuel supply, the country suffers from a severe shortage of electricity generation, leading to rolling blackouts. While 94 percent of urban households had electricity in 2012, only 60 percent of rural households had access.

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