India goes solar

India, of course, gets a lot of sun, it is wasted in the sense that it makes us sweat, causes us to use increasing amounts of electricity for air conditioning, and all in all, is a pain. So, a plan to use that sun to generate solar energy, of course, is very welcome. Solar energy use obviously is not new in India, my best friend growing up had a solar water heater at home (his family business used to make them). Policy has never kept up because there has not been a push, is this one?

The Union Government has finalised the draft for the National Solar Mission. It aims to make India a global leader in solar energy and envisages an installed solar generation capacity of 20,000 MW by 2020, of 1,00,000 MW by 2030 and of 2,00,000 MW by 2050.

The total expected funding from the government for the 30-year period will run to Rs. 85,000 crore to Rs. 105,000 crore. The requirement during the current Five Year Plan is estimated to be Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 6,000 crore. It will rise to between Rs. 12,000 crore and Rs. 15,000 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan.

A crore, BTW, is 10 million. India still uses its own number multiplier system for money that goes in 100s, not thousands. So, a 100,000 is a lakh, and a 100 lakhs is a crore. I never understood why this was not changed when the country went metric. Lakhs and crores, of course, are metric, but can get confusing.

The plan will start off by mandating roof top solar panels for government and government owned industry buildings in an attempt to reduce costs by scaling up. It will be followed by mandated solar water heaters for all commercial buildings and apartment complexes, and use of solar panels for all in industrial buildings. All this is supposed to happen in the next three years, which appears to be wildly ambitious.

India is a federal country with delineation of jurisdictions between the central and state governments on regulation. Electricity happens to be on the concurrent list, meaning both the state and central governments can make laws, and the central government’s laws will always preempt the states. However, building appears to be a local government issue, so managing this huge transition could get tricky. They are all supposed to use the same building code, but given the unevenness of local governance, who knows what implementation will look like.

In Phase II, starting 2012, India will go solar thermal. India and Pakistan have 200,000 sq km of the Thar Desert, a typical dry tropical desert with oodles of space and sun. It would be a good place to site all kinds of capacity similar to efforts in North Africa and Spain.

Solar thermal, if combined with the right kind of transmission and storage technology, could power the world in 7000 sq km, so theoretical capacity may not be an issue. Of course, the storage and distribution are key. Molten salt batteries look very promising for solar energy storage and night use.

India’s electricity needs are daunting. This WolframAlpha search provides the following:


Note to Wolfram: your data presentation would result in a failing grade on a middle school term paper, where are the sources? Where did you get your numbers? BIG FAIL!

We in Canada use more electricity than India for about a billion fewer people. Clearly, if India was as profligate as Canada in energy consumption and got the power it needed to get there from coal, we would all be dead soon. India needs to go solar in a hurry and I am glad the government has released a policy that is more ambitious than the US or Canada. It needs the support and funding to make it happen and I for one will be very happy to see progress in this area. Solar power needs big up front costs and little ongoing costs.

Can Indian industry provide the money needed? We shall see. I am not too worried about the photovoltaic panel parts, they will muddle along in typical patchwork Indian fashion with the quality of governance being the controlling factor in success or failure. It is the capital and political will needed for solar thermal that strikes me as problematic. The coal and mining industries are entrenched in some population (and vote) rich states like Bihar based in the central and north east regions and there could be some big losers if India went away from coal (as it needs to in order to prevent catastrophic climate change) and toward solar thermal, which I assume would come out of Rajasthan (West).

Anyway, we live in interesting and sunshiny times, stay tuned for more.

h/t to my one of my favourite climate blogs, solve climate for bringing this article to my attention, love your blog folks!

1 comment for “India goes solar