Today, India stands at an interesting juncture where it must balance its growth aspirations with its commitment to the environment. The country is currently the world’s third largest carbon polluter and a significant portion of these emissions are contributed by the energy industry – this number will increase at least twice by 2030, as the use of coal in the country is predicted to shoot up to 2.5 to 3 times the current levels. To offset the environmental implications of its ambitious growth plans, India must take a long hard look at the domestic power industry, ensuring that a significant portion of the country’s electricity demand is met with the help of renewable sources.
The Sunny Story
Recognizing the tremendous potential presented by solar energy for a country like India that receives roughly 300 days of clear sunny skies every year, the Indian government has been actively encouraging the development of solar power projects. As on April 6, 2017, India’s solar grid had an impressive cumulative capacity of 12.28 GW. In little less than 2 years, the country has quadrupled its solar generation capacity, going from 2,650 MW on May 26, 2014 to 12,289 MW on March 10, 2017. Headlining the country’s solar policy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s plans to enhance its capacity to 100 GW by 2022 at the 2015 COP21 climate conference in Paris. While this is an ambitious goal, domestic solar power players have been making all the right moves to accomplish these numbers.
The proposed Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Park in Madhya Pradesh, which is scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 2018, will have a capacity of 750 MW. Set up as a joint venture between Madhya Pradesh Urja Vikash Nigam Ltd and Solar Energy Corporation of India, this park will occupy an area of 6.4 sq km and will reduce solar energy levelised tariffs of INR 3.30 per kWh – one of the lower (lowest being INR2.44 per kWh) generation costs in the country.
Bright Days Ahead
India’s annual insolation is about 5,000 T kWh, which far exceeds its total energy consumption. With a major section of the population still denied access to grid connected power, the availability of cheap solar energy can help bypass the high costs associated with grid development. Temperature control is one of the major applications of electricity in India; since cooling loads are directly proportional with the intensity of the sun, solar energy can provide the perfect foil for increased demands placed by cooling systems on hotter days.
India has vast tracts of barren land that is devoid of vegetation and suitable for solar power generation. If only 32,000 sq km of wasteland is installed with solar power plants, the country’s generation capabilities will swell to 2,000 billion kWh of electricity. Owing to India’s considerable population density and the relatively lower availability of per capita land especially in urban areas, rooftop solar arrays connected to localized grids are the most viable alternative. The cost of these arrays must be further reduced to attract investments from individuals and families. The falling prices of solar photovoltaic panels is further facilitated by government subsidies that reduce customs duty on solar panels by 5 percent and exempt them from excise duty is expected to bring down the costs of these panels by an additional 15-20 percent. The Government of India has also introduced a Renewable Energy Certificate Scheme to drive investment in low-carbon energy projects such as solar power plant projects. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has provided a 70 percent subsidy on installation costs in North Eastern states and 30 percent in other parts of the country.
India is also exploring the hybrid renewable solar plants that combine photovoltaic arrays with wind power and hydroelectricity projects that enable power production to continue unabated during the monsoon and winter months. Put together, all these measures will ensure a bright and sunny future for India’s solar power sector.