January 25, 2021

The emerging solar energy landscape in India

In recent years India has made significant strides in ‘solarising’ its economy.
Keywords: Solar Energy | Renewable | Solarising | Solar PV | PPP | Technology | Clean Energy | MSMEs | Competitive Global Pricing | Investment | Science
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Solar energy is considered as the most abundant energy resource on this planet. The basic science behind the creation of solar energy is that the Hydrogen atoms in the Sun’s core combine to form Helium which generates energy through the process of nuclear fusion. Then it can be trapped and used as a renewable energy source which is very helpful for society towards a clean energy future. 

In India, it is more advantageous and sustainable to invest in renewable sources of energy than to rely on thermal power plants. That is why after Independence, the then Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru termed the Bhakra Nangal Dam as a “New temple of resurgent India”. However, except for hydropower, the abundant renewable sources like solar energy remained largely untapped in the first 60 years of independence mainly due to lack of relevant technologies.

In 2010, the total installed solar capacity in India was only 10 MW while in 2016, the installed capacity rose to 6000 MW in just 6 years. As of March 2019, it rose to 30 GW, afivefold increase in just 3 years. This clearly shows that in recent years India has made significant strides in ‘solarising’ its economy.

In 2014, the Modi government had set an initial target of 20 GW solar power capacity for 2022, which was achieved in 2018 and then the target was raised to 100 GW

India has become the fastest solar power generating country which is the result of the effective Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. With the help of the PPP model, some renowned companies like Acme solar, Adani and Greenko became the top producers of solar energy in India by 2019. 

The latest data report of “Clean Energy Investment Trend 2019” shows Acme solar holdings had 2300-Megawatt (MW), Adani 1970-MW and Greenko 1916-MW of solar PV (photovoltaic) generation capacity at the end of May 2019. 

In 2014, the Modi government had set an initial target of 20 GW solar power capacity for 2022, which was achieved in 2018 and then the target was raised to 100 GW (including 40 GW from rooftop solar panels by 2022), aiming for an investment of US$100 billion. The country’s installed solar capacity was 35,122 MW by the end of June 2020. 

There are many supportive government policies that came after 2014, leading to the multiplication of solar power plants. The government is aiming at 25,750 megawatts (MW) of new power generation capacity from solar plants under the ambitious Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) scheme by 2022. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy launched the scheme in 2019, with three components – installation of 10,000 MW capacity through small solar energy-based power plants on barren lands, installation of 17.5 lakh stand-alone off-grid solar water pumps and solarization of 10 lakh existing grid-connected agriculture pumps. 

Government schemes and plans to increase the renewables share in energy generation are expected to drive the solar energy market at a faster pace. 

This shows that the government has invested more in solar PV than in all fossil fuel sources of electricity generation together. In India, the labour is available at low cost and the construction of a solar plant requires only 20-30% high skilled manpower with the rest being semi-skilled or unskilled workers. Government’s focus on renewable energy will help in accelerating the country’s economic growth by giving jobs to unskilled and semi-skilled labours. 

According to a recent report from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in 2019 the renewable energy workforce in India grew five times in the past five years. Therefore, the government schemes and plans to increase the renewables share in energy generation are expected to drive the solar energy market at a faster pace. 

Currently, Karnataka is leading the race among all States of India and has approximately 24% market share of the total installed capacity in India. Some of India’s biggest solar power plants are the states of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

With the clear-sighted policy direction and investment in solar power plants, India has achieved the target of being the “lowest-cost producer of solar energy” in the world.

  1. Bhadla Solar Park – It is located in Rajasthan and has been installed with a capacity of nearly 2,250 megawatts (MW).
  2. Shakti Sthal solar power project – located in Karnataka, installed with a capacity of nearly 2,050 MW.
  3. Ultra-mega solar park – It is the third-largest solar power plant located in Andhra Pradesh installed with a capacity of nearly 1000 MW.
  4. Rewa Solar Power Project – Located in Madhya Pradesh and developed by Mahindra Renewables with a capacity of 750 MW. 
  5. Kamuthi solar power plant – It is located in Tamil Nadu and established by Adani Group’s Green Energy (Tamil Nadu) Ltd, with a capacity of 648MW.

Challenges 

With the clear-sighted policy direction and investment in solar power plants, India has achieved the target of being the “lowest-cost producer of solar energy” in the world. There are still many challenges also in building solar power plants. The main challenge in the present scenario is the scarcity of consolidated available lands. Devising Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) or rooftop policies are the need of the hour in India to deal with land issues. Banks need to be more flexible in extending loans for PV installation for Micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and residential consumers. So far, the installation of PV cells has not been sufficient at small scale level; it is focused at large scale energy generation. 

Development of an end-to-end value chain for a more competitive global pricing will help in achieving sustainable energy growth in the long run.   

For inclusive and sustainable growth and development of our country, the installation should also be done on a small scale. To this end, awareness programs need to be created among residential consumers and small firms and reliable information should be provided to them about various factors regarding the PV market, availability of the products, rooftop installation benefits etc. In the coming years, shortage in non-renewable sources of energy will play a key role in making renewable energy a major source of power and will help in further reducing its cost. The increasing preference for solar power plants in India plays a crucial role in the country’s transition to a fully sustainable energy system. Overall, the work in progress for setting up PV cell panels on a large scale is quite commendable and gives hope for the future. Development of an end-to-end value chain for a more competitive global pricing will help in achieving sustainable energy growth in the long run. 

2 comments

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  • Nicely written article on the existing position today. Yes it is true that India has invested all its efforts in maximizing this renewable source of energy in a big since Hon. Narendra Modi ji became prime minister. We have huge potential and it needs to percolate down to MSMEs @ village level.

  • Hi, It’s a very well summarised and very informative article. These targets are aggressive set by Governments, However difficulties in acquisition of land could be the major hurdle.
    Have been part of projects in Bhadla and Ultra mega solar parks.
    An employee from solar EPC

Anupama Kumari

Anupama Kumari

Anupama Kumari is pursuing her Masters in Energy Economics from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi.

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