Is solar power revolution in India around the corner?

Solar panel

Solar panelIndia‘s energy import bill is $150 billion and it is expected to reach $300 billion by 2030. The country imports 80% of its crude oil. It lost more than 15 billion units of electricity from 2012-13 due to shortage of coal. Statistics also reveal that power problems in 2011 and 2012 caused a loss of $64 billion to the economy. When circumstances look grim, India’s ambitious plans to expand infrastructure and improve the lives of people look Utopic.

Even in its prime, India hasn’t been able to produce more than 160 gigawatts (GW) of electricity despite having an installed capacity of 250 GW. In spite of this, India has to achieve its goal of providing 24/7 power in every home. At the slightest hint of excess dependence on fossil fuels, UN and other international organizations will flag concerns. To put it mildly, the situation is tricky.

What is India’s Plan?

No matter how bleak the situation looks, Indian government has promises to keep. Displaying sheer optimism, the government revised the earlier target of 20 GW solar power capacity by 2022 to 100 GW. The Union Minister for Coal and Power “expects” $100bn (£62bn) to be invested in renewable energy in India in next five years.

In one of the latest developments, the energy ministry has started working on a plan to form an association of 56 nations that receive more than 300 days of solar radiation in a year. What purpose will it serve? Apparently, the move seems to have been triggered by the expectation of lowering the cost of solar energy.

The reason for creating such an association is somewhat explicit – to strengthen India’s position at a global stage. India has an edge over other tropical countries when it comes to availability of technology and low manufacturing cost. That would put the nation in the driver’s seat. It will also showcase India’s commitment towards renewable energy.

Setting Optimistic Target or Competing With China?

India’s recent move to revise solar power target to 100 GW by 2022 is undoubtedly ambitious. Launching itself as one of the largest solar power markets could be the driving force, but the China factor cannot be swept under the carpet. Achieving 100 GW will reportedly put India and China on the same pedestal as the latter had also announced a target to achieve an installed solar power capacity of 100 GW by 2020. A simple calculation reveals that India wants to achieve in five years what China plans to do in 10 years. Success can give India a reason to brag about.

Rajasthan Gets the Attention

Rajasthan is presently the blue-eyed boy of the government and it is one of the few states chosen by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) for the proposed mega solar parks,whose “installed solar power capacity will reach 100,000 MW by 2022.” The government has partnered with a leading MNC to strengthen the state’s transmission network and ensure efficient and safe evacuation of solar power from the solar parks. Rajasthan is joined by 11 other states in formulating solar energy policy to encourage installation of solar rooftop systems in residential, commercial, institutional and industrial buildings.

Madhya Pradesh Leads the Charge

If all goes well, the world’s biggest 750 MW solar power station will be established in Rewa district’s Gudh area. None other than the state Energy and Mining Minister has confirmed that the World Bank will provide 50% soft loan for this solar power project. As a sign of progress, a team of World Bank experts reportedly visited the site and found it appropriate for commissioning the project.

In fact, the Asia’s biggest solar power plant with a generation capacity of 130 MW is already operational in the Neemuch district.

Besides including Madhya Pradesh in the “Green Energy Corridors” project and granting Rs 2,100 crore to the state, it has also earmarked Rs 233 crore as ‘encouragement money’ for promoting new and renewable energy sources.

Proactive Measures of the Government

Ever since the mantle of governance was passed on to Modi, the man who is believed to have pioneered solar power in India, the country has seen a speedy development on the renewable energy front. During his stint as the Gujarat Chief Minister, he initiated the solar power policy that compelled global companies to establish their footprints in the state. He has delivered Asia’s biggest solar park and Gujarat still continues to be the leading state in terms of installed solar power capacity.

The Modi government’s emphasis on the National Solar Mission was reflected in the energy related announcements it made within the first 100 days of coming to power. Its pledge to accelerate solar power seems very much real and that has been endorsed by the leaders of both the business and energy sectors. According to Rahul Munjal of Hero Motocorp, “We have a government that is even more bullish than the entrepreneurs.” For those uninitiated, Hero Future Energies will generate 280MW of solar power by 2015. Rajendra Pachauri, the energy expert who needs no introduction, is of the opinion, “We have a prime minister who first, believes in climate change and, secondly, is a doer. “

Factors Going in Favour of Solar Revolution in India

India has about 300 sunny days, which amounts to around 3,000 hours of sunshine in a year. That is equivalent to 5,000 trillion kwh. It is safe to derive that India gets 70% more solar radiation than the European nations. These statistics would surely make Indians rub their hands in glee.

Other factors that seem to put a stamp on India’s confidence:

  • The peak demand for power coincides with the time when solar energy is generated

  • Solar power is pollution free, and more importantly, inexhaustible in a tropical nation like India

  • It can be used through the thermal route for heating and cooking or by generating electricity through photovoltaic cells

  • Electricity generated through photovoltaic cells and CSP plants can be connected to the grid

  • Solar energy conversion equipment have a longer life, less maintenance costs and lower running costs as compared to equipment used to produce power through conventional sources