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Sunshine for India

India has a large solar energy potential. According to Reuters, in July 2009, India had unveiled a $19 billion plan to produce 20 gw of solar power by 2020. According to this plan, the use of solar power will become mandatory in all government buildings, hospitals and hotels.
Sunshine for India

T Muneer and colleagues in an article published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews say the daily average solar energy incident on our country varies between four and seven kWh/m2 with about 1,500-2,000 sunshine hours per year. This amount of solar energy is far more than the current domestic total energy consumption and even with a low 10 per cent efficiency of solar cells would still be greater than the domestic electricity demand projected in 2015.

There is indeed a huge potential of solar energy in India. However, the installed solar capacity is still negligible in the country. According to Avilash Roul, assistant coordinator for the Bank Information Centre, the amount of solar energy produced in India in 2007 was less than one per cent of the total energy demand. By the end of 2010, the grid-interactive solar power was merely 10 mw. Roul says that government-funded solar energy in India accounted for approximately 6.4 mw only as of 2005. However, irrespective of whatever limited capacity India has on installed capacity, according to McKinsey & Company, the country is ranked number one in terms of solar energy production per watt installed, with an insolation of 1,700 to 1,900 kilowatt hours per kilowatt peak (kWh/KWp). Thus, the efficiency of installed solar power and related technology in India is among the best in the world.

Two states in India seem to stand out in terms of installed solar power — Gujarat and Rajasthan. Gujarat has dominated the solar power movement in India by contributing two-third of the 900 mw of total solar power generation. The state has the country’s biggest solar park in Charanka village, which generates 214 mw of solar power out of its total capacity of 500 mw. The park has been recently awarded for being both innovative and environment-friendly by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Rajasthan comes second after Gujarat in terms of solar power generation in India. Being the sunniest state of India, it has tremendous solar power potential. According to Bloomberg, Reliance Power insta­lled 40 mw solar power at the Dhirubhai Ambani Solar Park in April this year. Furthermore, according to Tip News, a 250 mw “compact linear fresnel reflector (CLFR)” plant is under construction by French energy group Areva for Reliance Power in Rajasthan (targeted for a May, 2013 start).

It is a fact that the electric grid system in India does not cover a large number of villages. According to T Muneer and colleagues, as of 2004, there are about 80,000 non-electrified villages in the country that are unreachable by the grid. Given that solar power is a cheap technology that does not require installing expensive copper cables and power delivery systems, it could bring locally-produced electricity to these non-electrified villages.

Secondly, solar power could be used to run water pumps in agricultural fields and the pumped water could be used for irrigation as well as drinking. According to M A Hossain and colleagues, in an article published in the International Journal of Sustainable Energy, water pumps powered with 1,800 Wp solar array can deliver about 140,000 litre of water per day and in 2006, a total of 7,068 such solar water pumping systems had been installed in India.

Thirdly, solar power could be used for heating water in homes through rooftop solar power heaters. In this regard, two cities in India have adopted solar power for water heating on a large-scale: Bangalore and Pune. According to newspaper reports, Bangalore has the largest deployment of rooftop solar water heaters in India. These heaters generate an energy equivalent of 200 mw every day. Bangalore is also the first city in India to provide a rebate of Rs 50 per month on monthly electricity bills for people using rooftop thermal systems (where the use of these systems has become mandatory). Similarly, Pune has also recently made installation of solar water heaters in new buildings mandatory.

However, before solar power becomes widely adopted in India, there are many challenges that need to be overcome. One major challenge is finding land for installation of solar arrays — which is a scarce resource. According to Roul, the land area required for utility-scale solar power plants, now at around one km2 for every 20-60 mw generated, could strain India’s available land resource. One option is to use large tracts of non-arable lands in Rajasthan. Another possibility is to use the rooftops of existing homes for installing solar arrays (where the government gives home owners subsidies in their electricity bills for installing these rooftop solar arrays).

Perhaps, the best blessing is that the Indian government is doing a lot to promote the adoption of solar technology in the country. In the recent 2010-11 budget, the government had announced an allocation of Rs 1,000 crore ($199.5 million) towards the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission and the establishment of a clean energy fund. This announcement is Rs 380 crore ($75.8 million) more than that in the previous budget.

The 2010-11 budget had also encouraged private solar companies by reducing customs duty on solar panels by five per cent and exempting excise duty on solar panels. According to research estimates, these concessions are expected to reduce the cost of a rooftop solar panel installation by 15-20 per cent from their current costs. Additionally, the government has also initiated a Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) scheme, which is designed to drive investment in low-carbon energy projects. This impetus given by the Indian government along with other technological improvements in solar technology (that lower the costs of solar arrays) will go a long way in making solar power the dominant option in India.