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The Sun is Shining on India

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About 400 million people in India lack access to electricity, more than the combined population of the U.S. and Canada. But the sun is shining bright on India. The densely populated nation also has high solar insolation, an ideal combination for using solar power in India. The country’s new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proposed building 25 solar parks, each with 500 MW to 1 GW of capacity. In total, the India is targeting 20 GW in the next five years, which would be almost half of the estimated 50 GW global solar market in 2014. Recently, the PM also announced plans to light up the national border with solar power plants. The proposal, aims to set up 1,000 MW plants on defence land and supply the electricity at a fixed price of Rs 5.5 per unit for 25 years. ‘The plan is to tap the solar potential in collaboration with the Defence Ministry at border areas which are mostly barren or abandoned lands,’ an official in the New & Renewable Energy Ministry said.

Gujarat is already a leader in solar power generation and contributes 2/3rd of the 900 MW of photovoltaics in the country.  With a view to make Gandhinagar a solar city, the State government launched a roof-top solar power generation scheme. This scheme is also being emulated in Rajkot, Surat, Bhavnagar and Vadodara. There is also a plan to install the World’s largest Solar Power Plant with 4,000 MW Capacity near Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan. The Narmada river’s canal branches have been used to install solar panels. While producing electricity, this also helps stopping 90,000 liter water/year of the Narmada river from evaporating. Similarly, there are many such initiatives in other States too. Solar energy is seen as a way to lower costs, reduce fossil fuel imports, lower carbon emissions, and improve grid reliability. The government plans to harness solar power to enable every home to run at least one light bulb by 2019.

Photo Credit: Barefoot College, Rajasthan
Photo Credit: Barefoot College, Rajasthan

According to a 2011 report by BRIDGE TO INDIA and GTM Research, India is facing a perfect storm of factors that will drive solar photovoltaic (PV) adoption at a ‘furious pace over the next five years and beyond’. The falling prices of PV panels, mostly from China and also from the US, has coincided with the growing cost of grid power in India.

Many raise the question whether solar power can substitute conventional electricity. And the German experience may help us believe that it is possible. This country with heaviest cloud cover in Western Europe has created more energy from solar power and other forms of renewable energy than the dirty coal. And it has also set a record using solar power to generate 50 percent of overall electricity demand for part of a day. Today, Germany has 35 GW of installed solar capacity and is on track to hit 52 GW in the near future, representing about 7 percent of the nation’s wholesale generation.

Meanwhile a recently released study in the US, made a nationwide assessment of how solar energy helps to power schools in communities across America. The study shows explosive growth in the use of solar energy over the last decade, soaring from 303 kilowatts (kW) of installed capacity to 457,000 kW, while reducing carbon emissions by 442,799 metric tons annually. This is equivalent to taking nearly 100,000 cars off U.S. highways. The report also shows that thousands of schools are already cutting their utility bills by choosing solar, using the savings to pay for teacher salaries and textbooks.

Photo Credit: Avani, Uttarakhand
Photo Credit: Avani, Uttarakhand

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India, widely scattered in villages and hamlets has peculiar problems. While the bigger solar plants can take care of the needs in the organised colonies or clusters, it is the far flung areas, not covered by the conventional grid, which need special attention. It is in this area that the government efforts will need to be augmented by well meaning NGOs and the Corporate houses by adopting certain areas under the wp regime.

A Bright & Sunny Business Opportunity

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy provides 70 percent subsidy on the installation cost of a solar photovoltaic power plant in North-East states and 30% subsidy in other regions. Private solar companies have also been given incentives by reducing the customs duty on solar panels by 5% and exempting excise duty on solar photovoltaic panels. The detailed outlay of the National Solar Mission highlights various targets set by the government to increase solar energy in the country’s energy portfolio.

India is already ranked as number one market in Asia for solar off-grid products. Our business houses can exploit this opportunity by taking a lead in ‘made in India’ campaign and manufacture solar panels on a large scale. Why import from China? The economy of scale should provide enough impetus to our industry to encash the opportunity. It would be a win win situation. Industry will prosper, country will get cheap electricity and there will be job creation on a very large scale. In one of the analysed scenarios, India can make renewable resources such as solar the backbone of its economy by 2050, reining in its long-term carbon emissions without compromising its economic growth potential.