Is India on the brink of becoming a solar superpower?
Not quite yet. But, significantly, the government is pondering a massive energy transition that could deliver 20,000 MW of solar power by 2020 and 200,000 MW by 2050, according to a long-awaited draft strategy leaked to The Hindu.
The 200,000 MW goal is 30 percent more than India's current installed power generation capacity across all energy sectors, which stands at nearly 150,000 MW. Solar makes up just 3 MW of that.
If the government's "National Solar Mission" moves forward, it would be the most ambitious solar scheme of any nation, by far. At the very least, it deserves strong consideration.
India, the world's sixth largest energy consumer, is in dire need of a ramp up of generation capacity. By 2020, the nation will require 400,000 MW of electricity. Currently, efforts are in the works to make good on the government's pledge of "Power for All by 2012," which promises to provide electricity to all rural households. Just fulfilling that would require 50,000 MW of additional capacity over the next three years.
The fact that India must build, and not rebuild, its entire energy infrastructure puts it in a unique position to establish a green economy. And solar seems a no-brainer choice to focus its investments.
Its potential in India is off the charts. With 250 to 300 clear sunny days a year, India's solar resource capacity is a thousand times greater than the nation's likely electricity demand by 2015.
Tapping a tiny fraction of that could turn India into a global renewables powerhouse, and an engine for growth and green jobs.
The government's solar mission would be implemented in three phases. Phase one, from 2009-2012, would target 1,000 MW of new capacity. From 2012 and 2017, the nation would focus on developing utility-scale concentrating solar plants to accelerate the ramp up. Finally, between 2017 and 2020, the aim would be grid parity, the point at which solar becomes as cheap as fossil fuels, to get to the 20,000 MW mark. By 2050, the full infrastructure would be in place.
So what would it cost? Around $18 to $22 billion over 30 years, according to The Hindu.
What a bargain – and a giant underestimate.
A March 2009 Greenpeace report, which analyzed a broader energy scenario, found that wealthy nations could help enable a massive renewable energy uptake in India by 2030 through an international Feed-in Tariff Support Mechanism. Specifically, for a cost of $195 billion in international financing spread out over 20 years (not including capital costs), India could add 310,000 MW of new renewable energy capacity. Around 45 percent of that would come from solar.
A December 2007 report by the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) concluded that it would cost $5.4 trillion for India to get to a 75 percent "renewables" share, includng nuclear.
Whatever the costs, most of it will be in up-front investments. As Sven Teske, author of the Greenpeace report, told the WorldWatch Institute:
"Over 30 years, India would make money."
And the truth is, any delays in realizing a big solar vision are not merely about cash but rather political will, he said. In fact:
"If India leveraged 1 paise, or one-hundredth of a rupee, on every kilowatt hour generated by coal-fired utilities, we would have enough money to implement all renewables here in India."
India is well known for rhetoric over its renewable pledges. There's still a scarcity of real targets and goals in its vague climate plans, and you won't find dollar commitments. V. Subramanian, who CEO of India's Wind Energy Association, explained why:
"The government of India does not currently have the machinery to implement such a strategy at a national level. This has to be done by state governments, and as yet the engagement between the two on this is not strong."
What will it take to get this solar mission accomplished?
Solar Plan Could Revolutionize India's Energy Sector (WorldWatch Institute)