India’s Solar Future Burns Bright

India is poised to become a solar powerhouse, a possibility on its way to becoming a reality, with sunny prospects for the awakening subcontinent’s economic future.

The Indian government has recognized the opportunity they have in a land where the sun shines more than 80 percent of all possible hours, and has set a goal of 20 GW by the year 2020. They are providing subsidies to encourage development as well as requiring renewable generation from state-run utilities and consumption from state-run companies.  This includes companies like Coal India Ltd., Steel Authority of India Ltd., and Oil & Natural Gas Corp.  If they can’t produce enough renewable power, they can meet their targets by purchasing it from outside sources.

Indian banks, like Infrastructure Development Finance Co. (IDFC)  and ICICI Bank Ltd. (ICICIBC), seeing the potential here for a steady annuity stream are getting on the bandwagon.

According to Vineet Mittal, managing director of Welspun Energy, India’s largest solar photovoltaic developer, “The first main batch of solar plants in India are nearing completion, spurring banks to explore ways to securitize their cash flows as they do with tolls from infrastructure projects such as roads.”

Both  US-based First Solar and China’s Suntech Holdings are expecting India to be one of the fastest growing solar markets. The government’s goal of 20 GW would put it ahead of Germany, the current world leader, with 17 GW already installed. But 20 GW is more than 140 times India’s current installed capacity. The challenge therefore represents an enormous growth opportunity. To date, they have used thin film panels manufactured in the US, Germany, and Taiwan, eschewing the lower cost Chinese made panels for now.

The most recent auction sold solar generated electricity at around 16.5 cents per kWh, about twice the current cost of coal generated power, but already competitive with oil-generated power. That price is expected to go down as the industry scales up. That price was, in fact, some 30 percent lower than the previous year, with over 100 companies participating in the auction.

This new infrastructure will not only provide investment and opportunity, but it will also provide jobs, not only the high tech jobs of system design, or the blue-collar jobs of installation, but also the entry level jobs of mopping the panels and keeping them clear from the continual onslaught of dust.

Most of the solar capacity going in today is in empty fields in the Northwest plains, like the 63-acre Azure Solar Plant in Khadoda with its 36,000 panels that produce 10 MW. These open spaces will soon fill up and panels will need to start going up on the rooftops of residential and commercial buildings if development is to continue, which is going to require a new business model.

[Image credit: Audreyjm529: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His publications include business and technical articles as well as books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an adventure novel about sustainability. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. He is also active in his community of Rochester, NY. A regular contributor to Mechanical Engineering magazine, RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner to the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.. Follow @RPSiegel on Twitter. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com