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Political, fiscal steps must for solar alliance to shine

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New Delhi: The Conference of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, now holding its 21st summit meeting in Paris, is the world’s most influential platform that has the power to change the face of the planet.

And the word “power” reminds you of its importance at this stage, being among of the prime factors that play a pivotal role in the climate change.

With the advancement of technology, the demand and dependence on energy have increased. Every growing city is energy-hungry and adding to the climate issues. But, we cannot ignore the fact that we need the energy to sustain. In such a scenario, we certainly require a change.

We cannot have Smart Cities unless we have smart strategies to govern our resources.

Renewables are the biggest weapon for us, which needs to be tapped at the optimum level. And India has vast resources of solar and wind energy which is yet majorly untouched.

In fact, India aims to expand its renewable sector by adding 175 Gigawatts though these mediums by 2022.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself outlined this during the launch of the grand Solar Alliance of over 120 countries on the opening day of the Paris conference on November 30.

This gives an optimistic impression of the prime minister’s aspiration for creating clean fuel while also making it available for use.

We need a paradigm shift now: From fossils to solar, shifting the dependence, in order to generate power that doesn’t poison the environment. Barely from 20 MW in 2011, India’s installed solar capacity has increased to 3.74 GW as of March 2015.

With some 300 sunny days in a year, India projects 5 EWh/yr (5,000 trillion kilowatt-hours per year) of solar incidence on its land area alone.

India’s geographical features are quite supportive of making the most of the wealth shining from the heaven.

An initial investment of $30 million in setting up a solar secretariat in India is like the foundation brick of this vision, which can eventually raise $400 million from the memberships, and international agencies as innovation funds.

By creating the larger solar market, we lower the costs, increase demand and stir the change. This will enable villages deprived of electricity to also avail it. Additionally, the employment opportunities across the country and globe will also magnify.

But this mission isn’t here without hurdles. We need to re-look at the following aspects to make this grand plan happen as envisioned. No pain, no gain:

– One of the major issues: Service tax levied on the sale of solar power generated through the rooftop solar panel, by small entrepreneurs to its tenants, is not specifically mentioned in the negative list of the service tax.

– Only renewable energy service companies and distributors are exempted from service tax.

– Consequently, tenants refuse to buy solar-fed electricity from the small entrepreneurs with additional 14.5 percent service tax on it. This is discouraging.

– Affordability, especially for the households, is in question.

– Despite the fact that the prices of photovoltaic, or solar, modules have crashed 50 percent since 2011, costs involved in installing these panels on rooftops is high on the upfront.

– Photovoltaic module constitutes approximately 50 percent of the rooftop cost and installation of 1 KW potent panel costs Rs.65,000 without battery back-up and subsidy.

– Assembling the parts for power storage is expensive. Additionally, technical specifications — like voltage, flicker, sync of the net-metering system — and support is lacking.

– We also lack financial support for solar projects due to limited track records and less awareness among consumers.

All the issues listed above need to be resolved for making the alliance successful. Solar energy is likely a heavenly gift for us. Prime Minister Modi has been a clean energy propagator, and his efforts towards at rolling out over 900 MW of solar energy in Gujarat is commendable.

Certainly, his alliance proposal indicates a “sunrise of new hope” for India. What can act like a cherry on the top is, banning production and sale of the conventional incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent lamp, while accepting systems based on light-emitting diodes wholeheartedly.

India will, then, have less craving for energy. And the proposed self-commitment by the country to the Paris meet — 35 percent reduction in its energy intensity and 40 percent share of installed capacity from renewables — would them be a viable goal.

(Kamal Meattle, IANS)

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Modi’s Visit to Bhutan Signals Deepening of Bilateral Ties

In 2014, Thimphu had been the first foreign capital Prime Minister Modi had visited shortly after the NDA government was formed

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Modi, Bhutan, Bilateral Ties
The visit had added significance since Bhutan has been changing under its new government and India-Bhutan ties had to be reoriented. Pixabay

Prime Minister Narendra Modis two-day visit to Bhutan was aimed at re-engaging with the Himalayan neighbour during his second term in office as part of his ‘neighbourhood first policy. The visit had added significance since Bhutan has been changing under its new government and India-Bhutan ties had to be reoriented to the new winds blowing in Bhutan.

In 2014, Thimphu had been the first foreign capital Prime Minister Modi had visited shortly after the NDA government was formed; it was an indicator of the special relationship shared between India and Bhutan. After the 2019 general election, his first foreign destination was to Maldives to attend the inauguration of the new government in Male headed by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. On his way back to Delhi from Maldives, Prime Minister Modi had stopped over at Colombo at the request of the Sri Lankan government.

Modi’s visit to Bhutan has signaled a deepening of the bilateral ties and converting them into a more broadbased relationship. Both sides are making efforts to diversify and develop their ties to a wider variety of sectors that go much beyond the traditional cooperation in the hydropower sector.

The visit took place at a time when there is greater international attention on Bhutan, just after the visit of senior United States official John Sullivan and a visit by the Chinese ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui earlier in the year. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan was on a visit to Thimphu last week, followed by a two-day trip to Delhi. It was the first visit to Bhutan by a senior US official in the past two decades as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted. During his discussions in Thimphu, Secretary Sullivan emphasized the “importance of expanding people to people ties between the US and Bhutan and enhancing joint efforts to combat human trafficking.”

Modi, Bhutan, Bilateral Ties
Prime Minister Narendra Modis two-day visit to Bhutan was aimed at re-engaging with the Himalayan neighbour during his second term in office as part of his ‘neighbourhood first policy. Pixabay

Though Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations with the US or China as part of its longstanding policy, both the US and China have increased their informal contacts and interaction with the Bhutanese government in recent times. China has made efforts to reach out to Bhutan to establish formal diplomatic relations; Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou visited Thimphu in July 2018, the first high level visit from China after the Doklam impasse in 2017 when Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Indian army soldiers had a 72-day face-off in the trijunction region between China, Bhutan and India.

China has made major in-roads in South Asia with large infrastructure projects in the past decade, from Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar. Beijing was keen to include Bhutan in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though Thimphu declined the invitation to attend the BRI summit in April, China has attracted interest among Bhutanese youth who favour increasing Bhutan’s interaction with China.

As Bhutan has made its transition to democratic governance, it has modernized and opened out at its own pace. With three changes in government through three elections, there is greater political awareness and debate over policy issues in the country. Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering’s government aims to diversify the economy and reduce dependency on hydropower export. There is a growing view, especially articulated by the younger generation that believes Bhutan should increase its engagement with a wider range of countries, including China.

Hydropower exports to India provide more than 40 percent of Bhutan’s domestic revenue. India is Bhutan’s main development partner and Bhutan’s hydropower export form the bedrock of the development cooperation. The Indian government has made plans to expand its partnership from its heavy dependence on the hydropower sector to other areas and assist Bhutan in increasing trade in a wide range of products. Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and Modi jointly inaugurated the 700 MW Mangdechhu hydropower project in the Trongsa Dzongkhag district in central Bhutan. They also inaugurated the Ground Earth Station and SATCOM network linked to ISRO’s South Asia Satellite that would
facilitate communication, public broadcasting and disaster management in Bhutan. Scientists from Bhutan are to travel to India where ISRO would help them design and launch a small Bhutanese satellite.

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India used to be the top destination for young Bhutanese to study abroad, but in the recent years, Bhutanese students are choosing to go to western countries, resulting in a significant reduction of Bhutanese students studying in India. India and Bhutan are in the process of establishing linkages between top Indian institutions and colleges in Bhutan. Modi said to the students at the Royal University of Bhutan: “people energise our ties.” Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s support to Bhutan’s current Five Year Plan as he outlined a new programme of cooperation with Bhutan that included space, education, Information Technology, healthcare and science and technology that is line with Bhutan’s new priorities and aspirations. (IANS)