News From India: First Net-Zero Energy Building, Renewables Volatile

India is getting its first net-zero energy building – the Paryavaran Bhavan building in New Delhi. 

It’s expected to achieve LEED INDIA-Platinum and a five star rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment from the national government’s Energy and Resource Institute. Managed by the Central Public Works Department of India, the project is spearheaded by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Net-Zero Energy India

A passive solar design brings light into most of the building as well as keeping heat out during the warmest months.

Solar PV provides all the electricity and solar thermal provides hot water for the building. A 930-kilowatt SunPower solar system graces the roof, installed with a five-degree tilt to optimizeenergy output (1.5 million kilowatt hours a year).

"For this urban project, with very limited rooftop space and high energy generation requirement, the selection of high efficiency solar panels was the most critical aspect," says  Ram Avatar of New Delhi-based Swadeshi Civil Infrastructure, which did the installation.

Motorcycle Maker Has Big Renewable Energy Plans

India’s policies on solar and wind have been volatile over the past year, but the Hero Group – the country’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer – has big plans for the market. 

The company says it will develop 1 gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy by 2017 through its new division, Hero Future Energies.

It recently completed its first wind farm (37.5 megawatts) and has a contract for its first solar plant (10 MW). The goal is to build 100 MW of wind and solar projects this year – it also has plans for small hydro.  

"We are making a strategic move into the renewable energy sector in the wake of the significant power shortages being witnessed in the country," says Rahul Munjal, managing director of Hero Future Energies.

While it may sound strange for a motorcycle company to get into renewable energy development, Hero is involved in numerous industries, such as IT and and financial services, real estate and education.

Renewable Energy in Flux

Meanwhile, just as India’s renewable energy industry has been trending up again, the Gujurat state government waived national clean energy targets for utilities – because a state utility claimed sourcing 7% of power from renewables is too costly.

"From a foreign investors’ point of view this illustrates yet again that even if something is committed to law, it still isn’t worth the paper it’s written on," says Gerry O’Kane of CleanBiz.Asia. "The decision in Gujurat cannot help but make investors question the future of India’s renewable energy policies."

Gurjurat has the most renewable energy of any Indian state – over 1 GW – and has a target of 20% renewables by 2020. By letting utilities off the hook for buying renewables, developers won’t be able to sell renewable energy unless it’s cheaper than coal. And when one state breaks a policy, others tend to follow.

A recent report by HSBC, Good Bye Winter, Hello Spring, concludes that wind energy is cost competitive with new coal plants in India, and solar will likely be between 2016-18. 

Last year, India withdrew subsidies for wind, plunging installations 42%. And this summer – to stabilize the grid – the government began requiring wind farms (10 MW or bigger) to accurately forecast their power generation in 15-minute blocks a day in advance, or face fines.

That’s very challenging for wind farms and could cost $4.2 million a year for a 100 MW plant, a spokesperson for Tata Power told Bloomberg. "Developers will see this as a further handicap" and penalties will "jeopardize" the industry’s growth, the nation’s second-biggest developer said. Not surprisingly, some of the biggest wind developers are reconsidering projects and turbine sales are down. Solar operators also have to give estimates but don’t face fines because output is smaller and less volatile.

In the long run, this could be good for the industry, says V. Subramanian, CEO of the Indian Wind Energy Association, because transmission companies and grid operators will buy more wind if they have that data.

Demand for solar is light at the moment because subsidies have been delayed. The government approved a proposal to reinstate the onshore wind subsidy, which expired in March 2012.

Volatile generation led to the world’s biggest blackout last year when half of India was without power for two days. Recently, the government announced it would spend $7.9 billion to double transmission capacity in the next five to six years to connect solar and wind projects. There’s almost 20 GW of wind and solar in India now.

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