The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission launched last year has positioned India to become a global leader in the growth of concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year has positioned India "to become a global leader in the growth of concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies," according to a new report. This is, however, subject to the mission being "implemented in a pragmatic manner" and initiation of new measures "aimed at assisting Indian companies through tax incentives, soft loans or a revolving equity fund".

The report, commissioned by the Australian government, analyses the context, barriers and policy options for the growth of the CSP industry in India.

As opposed to photovoltaic (PV) technologies, the CSP technologies use systems of mirrored concentrators to focus direct beam solar radiation to receivers that convert the heat energy to mechanical energy through a steam turbine and then into electricity.

India’s solar mission launched in January 2010 has an ambitious target of 20 GWe of installed solar power by 2022. In the first phase, 1 GW of grid-connected solar energy is targeted for 2013 with an approximate 50:50 split between CSP and PV technologies.

"CSP has advantages compared to photovoltaics as it can readily incorporate thermal energy storage and/or fossil fuel boosting to provide dispatchable power," says the report.

"The use of relatively ‘low tech’ manufacturing methods for solar collector fields, together with the use of steam turbine technologies adapted from the existing thermal power generation industry, makes the prospect of continued, rapid scale-up of CSP capacity very feasible," it says.

Describing the solar mission as "a visionary and inspiring policy measure", the report says "there is more than enough suitable land in India with high direct beam solar resources to meet the entire nation’s electricity needs in principle".

According to the report, the regions with the highest solar resources are largely in Rajasthan and Gujarat, plus Jammu and Kashmir. "The high capital cost nature of CSP technology means that it is best to construct systems in the locations of highest solar resource even if they are away from existing infrastructure and load centres and some extra transmission losses are incurred."

The best sites in India for locating CSP plants are in the northwest of the country. For instance, the direct normal irradiation – the portion of solar radiation that CSP plants utilize – at Jodhpur, on the edge of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, is comparable on an annual average basis to Granada, one of the best Spanish sites, says the report.

Whilst the grid in India is extensive, there are many regions where the load density has not justified the necessary sub-stations for full grid-connection. "Within these non-grid-connected areas there are industrial sites with captive power generation in the megawatt range that would be candidates for small off-grid CSP systems," the report says.

The report notes that some of the possible barriers for CSP in India are the current high cost of electricity produced, getting approvals for land, grid and services connection.

"For CSP to achieve significant penetration in a given market, millions of square meters of solar concentrator systems of various types along with all the supporting plant and infrastructure will need to be manufactured. Facilities and the skilled human resources to do this are needed," says the report.

The report has made a few more recommendations to reduce the project timelines and make the solar mission a success.

"For a country embarking on growing its involvement with CSP, a pilot plant of some kind is needed," the report says. "CSP has been discussed in India for many years but there has been no significant pilot plant constructed."

A promising way to go ahead is by establishing solar parks in areas where the direct incidence solar radiation is high. The solar park concept could be applied to advantage in a manner tailored for small-scale demonstrations to facilitate commercially driven pilot plants in the 1 to 5 MW size range, the report says.

The solar mission is also missing some key opportunities, according to the report. For instance, it says, energy storage is not suitably encouraged with the flat tariffs on offer. Current rules also preclude hybridization with biomass or fossil plants, the report says, pointing out that "the opportunity to provide solarised or solar enhanced fossil or biomass hybrids is one which could improve peak supply in the Indian power network".

According to the report, the CSP sector is widely forecast to continue to grow at very high rates. This growth has been mainly in Spain and now increasingly in the southwestern US. Now India appears to have positioned itself to play a key role in global CSP developments "provided the present measures continue and are implemented in a pragmatic manner with appropriate support for research and development, demonstration, standards and industry training", the report says.

India’s strong track record of technical success in every new field that it has seriously engaged in – from wind turbines to car manufacturing – makes it clear that a major player position in CSP is feasible, the report notes. To accelerate the necessary technology transfer process, the report recommends "policy measures that facilitate Indian equity investment in existing CSP companies around the world, together with carefully designed schemes for overseas secondments and training".