Pilot project to store solar power soon: Upendra Tripathy

India plans to generate 175 gigawatt (GW) of electricity from clean energy sources by 2022 with an estimated investment of $150 billion. At the heart of this ambitious green energy programme is Upendra Tripathy, a 1980 batch Indian Administrative Service officer of the Karnataka cadre. Tripathy, along with his team, has been instrumental in rolling out the solar energy programme which resulted in tariff falling to Rs4.34 per unit. An alumnus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, he had stints at the Cabinet secretariat and the petroleum ministry before becoming the secretary for the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE), his current position. Credited for turning around the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, Tripathy has been felicitated with the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award in Public Administration. In an interview, Tripathy talks about creating a $1 billion fund for renewables, involving the Indian Railways in setting up solar power capacity, and starting a pilot electricity storage project. Edited excerpts:

Given that battery storage holds the key to solar, does MNRE plans to start a pilot project on solar electricity storage?

Yes, but that is at a preliminary stage. We have called for expression of interest and many people have participated. We will have to find out the financial implications.

Why has the RE-Invest global investors meet been turned into a bi-annual event? Initially it was planned to be held once a year.

At the first RE-Invest programme (2015), commitments for 273,000 (megawatt) MW were made. We have to translate that (into reality). Developing 273,000MW is a challenge and we need a lot of investment. That is why we are creating a $1-billion fund. It’s an alternative investment fund. We have to put a financial mechanism together and it would have been a little too hectic to hold the meet in February (this year). We want to consolidate the results of the first RE-Invest programme before going for the next edition.

Given that 40,000MW of solar energy capacity by 2022 has to come from rooftop projects, how do you plan to engage with the Indian Railways given its presence across the country?

We were talking to the Railways but it could not take up many projects. For rooftop projects, we need to have a new incentive or award scheme…which we are doing. The Railways can then take up more projects.

For more than one year, we have been asking the Railways that rooftop solar projects should be put at 8,000 stations, same as the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is doing by installing rooftop solar projects at all its stations.

Apart from having so many railway stations across the country, Railways also has a huge land bank. Wherever they are buying electricity for more than Rs5.50 per unit, they can go for solar and save a lot of money.

With the Union budget round the corner, what are your expectations?

Our budget has gone up from Rs1,500 crore to Rs4,500 crore. We have requested (the finance ministry) to enhance our budget. Recently, the Cabinet cleared Rs5,000 crore for rooftop and Rs5,000 crore for VGF (viability gap funding). We have told the finance ministry that in addition to our budget, it should give this money (Rs10,000 crore) in the next financial year (2016-17).

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