From a technological point of view, India is an excellent place for the development of solar energy. It gets plenty of sunshine for most parts of the year, with the summer temperatures well in excess of 1000 F in most parts of the country. To the northwest, India has the Thar Desert that has been identified as a feasible spot for the development of solar power, since the area is mostly an arid land and gets plenty of sunlight.
Apart from the solar power generation potential at a large scale, there is plenty of scope for household solar harvesting. This is primarily owing to two reasons – the amount of sunshine received by homes and the presence of flat roofs almost throughout the country. Flat roofs can help tap the solar energy much more efficiently and help homes generate their own power. The per capita energy consumption of India is about 15 times less than the US, which means the household solar energy harvesting can easily power an Indian home. Rooftop solar energy generation is particularly important for a country like India where there is land scarcity and acquisition of huge lands for the development of projects can be a slow and tedious process riddled with bureaucracy.
India is also well suited to develop solar energy technology. It is home to great human resource and talented scientific minds. Indian companies like Suzlon are world leaders in wind energy technology. However, the impetus and incentive to develop solar energy were lacking all these years, because the government hadn’t taken any measures to subsidize solar energy. As a result, it became too costly to be used in mainstream energy generation. The cost of production of a unit of electricity from solar energy is 3-6 times the cost of electricity produced from conventional thermal power stations in India.
This is now changing as the government has identified solar energy as a priority. It has an ambitious plan of going from near zero installed capacity to 20,000 MW solar energy just in the next 10 years. This $19 billion National Solar Mission plan should help India catch up with other developing and developed nations in the field of solar energy.
The development of solar energy in India has deep economic and social implications. There are still tens of thousands of villages in India that are not electrified and it is difficult to extend the grid to these villages. Solar energy provides the perfect answer to these villages and a number of governmental and non-governmental organizations are actively working towards rural electrification. In the eastern state of Orissa, 3000 villages will be powered completely by solar energy by 2014.
The private sector is now taking an active role in the development of solar energy in India and a number of foreign companies are entering this league, with the promise of huge advances in the next few years and availability of cheap and qualified technical professionals. Recently, Blackstone invested $300 million in Moser Baer India. This is only a start and a number of established companies are expected to join this growing market of solar energy. Already in terms of solar energy intensity, India is one of the top countries in the world today, acquiring this distinction within a very short period of time.
Owing to its location, India has a great potential for solar energy. Now the geographic advantage is coupled with a shift in policy that makes India especially well suited to lead the region in solar energy development. The government has committed about $20 billion in the next ten years for solar development in India and has mandated the use of solar energy in all government run buildings and hospitals.
Photo: Wayne National Forest