Full version: India’s solar sunrise

Darshan Goswami

Comment: Solar Energy has the potential to re-energise India’s economy by creating millions of new jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce the trade deficit and propel India forward as a ‘green nation’. In short, solar offers too many benefits for India to ignore or delay its development.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and are not intended to represent the views or policies of the United States Department of Energy.

India is one of the sun’s most favoured nations, blessed with about 5000 TWh of solar insoluation every year. India should tap this vast resource to satisfy its growing energy demand – and time is of the essence. Even if a tenth of this potential was utilised, it could mark the end of India’s power problems – using the country’s deserts and farm land.

India could lead the world by embracing the power of the sun, if smart business models and favourable policies are developed and implemented nationwide as quickly as possible.

Need backing

Despite the worldwide recession, the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry has demonstrated unprecedented growth over the past years, with increased demand for solar power attracting more and more players into the market. The price of solar panels fell 47% in 2011, according to Bloomberg. This has made the business case for solar more compelling because solar PV has, in some parts of the world, already reached grid parity, and it will soon be below the US$1/W cost target for most of the world sometime this year. This is making solar technology more competitive with traditional energy sources.

The Indian Government should therefore embrace favourable tax structures and consider providing financial resources to fund projects such as community solar farms as part of their energy development programmes. “India can be a great power, ushering in a game-changing third industrial revolution by utilising its renewable energy resources and collaborating with power producers and suppliers,” says American Economist and Author Jeremy Rifkin. India could become the Saudi Arabia of solar energy.

Solar energy is a win-win for India and the environment, and India should make solar energy a mainstream component of its energy diversification. There is really no better economical choice for India.

India needs solar energy now

India has tremendous energy needs and an increasing difficulty in meeting those requirements through traditional means of power generation. Electricity consumption in India has been increasing at one of the fastest rates in the world due to population growth and economic development. The Indian economy faces increasing challenges because energy supply is struggling to keep pace with demand, and there are energy shortages of 10-13% daily almost everywhere in the country. Because India has so many black-outs, many factories and households use emergency diesel generators as back-ups. This back-up power could be supplied by solar energy.

Solar has the potential to transform the Indian economy in the same way as the information technology (IT) and auto industry transformed the Indian economy in the 1990s. India is in a unique position to introduce clean energy solutions on an enormous scale to provide affordable energy for everyone – especially the poor.

India should take full advantage of this golden opportunity because solar energy has particular relevance in remote and rural areas, where around 289 million people live without access to electricity. Solar energy is the most cost-effective option for India to reduce energy poverty without having to extend national grid services to provide power for individual homes and buildings.

Renewable energy is an attractive investment because it will provide long-term economic growth for the country. A favourable renewable energy policy could create millions of jobs and an economic stimulus of at least US$1 trillion, and perhaps much more if all indirect economic (ripple) effects are included. "India is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy sources and if properly utilised, India can realise its place in the world as a great power," Rifkin says.

If houses in villages and cities produce energy from solar power and then sell it to distribution companies, this could, for example, give a level-playing field to rural areas in terms of industrialisation.

The Government needs to play a decisive role, however, by providing feed-in-tariffs, tax credits and other support mechanisms in order to realise the significant solar potential in India. It would be a serious miscalculation, if India missed out on this opportunity.

How solar energy can work for India

India needs a plan with the same spirit, boldness and the imagination of the Apollo programme that put astronauts on the moon. It's just like the case of personal computers, which were very expensive to begin with, but with mass production, the cost has come down dramatically – the technology is well established and available today.

What is needed for the same thing to happen to solar, is political commitment and appropriate investments and funding. One step towards achieving this goal would be to start a nationwide solar initiative to facilitate growth in large-scale deployment of solar roofs and large utility-scale generation installations within the next 20 years. If such policies come into being, India could become a major player and even an international leader in solar energy for years to come.

One step in the right direction has been the establishing of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), which was launched in late 2009. However, the present JNNSM target of producing 10% of its energy − 20 GW by 2022 – is very low. JNNSM needs to take bold steps with the help of central and state Governments to play a bigger role in realising India's solar energy potential.

Another opportunity for sparking investment in solar, is the US-India Energy Dialogue, which facilitates discussions on renewable energy and energy efficiency. This could lay the foundation for an energy independent future – one in which the Government of India takes advantage of the vast amounts of energy available from the Rajasthan Desert sun (instead of oil from the Arab nations) to power its future energy needs. In addition, solar energy would not only create millions of jobs, but also sustain India's positive economic growth, help lift its massive population out of poverty, and combat climate change.

Solar energy also has the advantage of allowing decentralised distribution of energy – particularly for meeting rural energy needs, and thereby empowering people at the grass roots level. Solar electricity could also shift about 90% of daily trip mileage from petroleum to electricity by encouraging increased use of plug-in hybrid cars. For drivers in India this means that the cost per mile could be reduced by a quarter in today's prices.

Solar-powered EV charging

As electric vehicles (EVs) enter the mainstream, corporate planners and municipalities need to lay the foundations for a clean transportation infrastructure through development and integration of public charging stations.

Carmakers worldwide are starting to move quickly with electric vehicles, with several models expected to hit showrooms in 2012. There is also a growing number of solar companies that are partnering with carmakers to provide solar-powered charging stations.

SunPower, for example, has forged an alliance with Ford, which recently unveiled a Drive Green for Life programme that will use a 2.5 kW solar rooftop array to charge the new Ford Focus electric vehicle due to hit the streets in 2012. Another example is SunEdison, which has joined the Pecan Street smart grid demonstration project in Austin, Texas, USA, where it will lead the development of home PV charging stations for the Chevy Volt.

Thousands of these solar-powered recharging stations could be placed across India. Many of these charging stations could be deployed at hubs such as shopping malls, motels, restaurants, and other public places where cars might be parked long enough to get a jolt of power.

Customers could perhaps be allowed to charge their vehicles for free while shopping at the stores that are participating in a given programme. In the USA, IKEA and Kohl's, as well as others, see EV charging initiatives as part of broader sustainability strategies. Other firms adding charging stations include Lowe's, which is working with GE; and Walgreens, which has made the biggest commitment so far with an initiative to install charging stations at 800 stores.

A bright future

Solar energy presents a bright spot on India's economic future. If India makes a massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power to solar energy, it is possible that 70% of India's electricity and 35% of its total energy could be solar-powered by 2030.

This would require large-scale deployment in the southwest and other parts of the country. Excess daytime energy can be stored in various forms such as molten or liquid salt, compressed air, pumped hydro, hydrogen, battery storage, etc., and then be used during night-time hours.

When solar energy becomes competitive with coal as improved and efficient solar technologies enter the market, solar can empower India's rural economies.

Concluding remarks

I personally think there are no technological or economic barriers to supplying almost 100% of India's energy demand through the use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydro and biogas by 2050. It's time to recognise that our energy must ultimately come from renewable resources, and we must accelerate the deployment of renewable energy. India can ramp up its effort to develop and implement large utility-scale solar energy farms to meet India's economic development goals. Solar energy will create energy independence and bring potentially enormous environmental benefits. Both issues have a direct influence on national security and the health of the Indian economy. India needs a radical transformation of its energy system to the use of renewable energy, especially solar.

By using renewable resources India can realise its full economic potential and achieve its key social, political, and environmental objectives. The Indian Government should develop favourable policies to ease the permitting process and to provide start-up capital to promote solar energy to make India's future bright.

All that is required is the political will for a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. India could potentially increase grid-connected solar power generation capacity to of over 200 GW by 2030, if adequate resources and favourable policies can be developed.

Solar energy could be a game-changer for India: It has the potential to re-energise India's economy by creating millions of new jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce the trade deficit and propel India forward as a ‘green nation'. Solar energy offers too many benefits for India to ignore or delay its development.

About the author: Darshan Goswami has over 35 years of experience in the energy field and is currently working for the United States Department of Energy (DoE) as a Project Manager in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. He previously worked as Chief of Energy Forecasting and Renewable Energy from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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14 May 2012
Solar energy still has a long way to go for wide scale deployment in India. On the other hand Wind Energy,Biofuel from plants like Agave have great future in view of the economics of power generation among Renewables.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
Wind Energy Expert
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

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