When it comes to solar, India has everything going for it...abundant sunshine, vast tracts of disposable land, favourable policies and an even more favourable environment for investment and accelerated growth. The way things are shaping up, India will cruise to the revised target of 100-GW installed solar generation capacity by 2022, emerging as a global solar powerhouse to reckon with. While state governments are going all out to obtain land for investors to put up solar plants, some large solar projects on the pattern of the 1,500-mw solar park in Andhra Pradesh are rapidly coming up. An area of 35,000 sqkm has been set aside for solar projects in the Thar Desert alone, which is enough to produce an astounding 700-2,100 GW of electricity. If captured effectively, even a small fraction of the total 5,000 trillion kWh solar energy incident over India’s land area can provide an answer to the power woes of the entire country.
Clearly, the future belongs to solar in India, and the shift towards renewable energy could not have come at a better time to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and large hydropower projects which are wrecking the environment. While India has been prudently opting for a mix of all sources of generation to be able to meet the rising demand for electricity, a major chunk of this power should come from renewable energy. The share of renewable energy in India’s total power generation, which as of now stands at 28 per cent, should be increased up to 50 per cent in a phased manner. As our policymakers have now come to realise, solar power can play a crucial role in achieving this target. Understandably so, 100 GW of the 175 GW of electricity the government has targeted to generate from renewable sources by 2022 will come from solar energy alone.
Given its immense potential, solar energy is poised to power as well as empower the New India in equal measure. It is not only enabling us to breathe in clean and fresh air, but is also lighting up many remote areas of the country which are not connected with electrical grid. Many farmers in these areas have ideally replaced diesel with solar power for pumping water. Tapping this renewable source of energy also makes a lot of economic sense. If the solar sector gets the much-needed push, India will not have to overly depend on other countries for importing oil, gas and coal. We can thus save on precious foreign reserves and strengthen our currency. The stage is set for this with solar projects becoming increasingly cheaper, as reflected in the sharply declining bidding prices. The cost of solar panels will also go down with foreign companies ready to set up base here under the ‘Make in India’ campaign. Indigenous R&D efforts will also contribute considerably in bringing down the cost.
Solar energy holds the key to India’s sustainable and long-term growth. A favourable policy on renewable energy will not only help generate millions of jobs, but will also promote business models which include land owners as stakeholders in power projects. Punjab has done exactly that with its commendable solar policy for farmers. The Central and state governments are both promoting this segment in a big way. Recently, the Centre had set state-wise tentative targets for installation of grid-connected solar rooftop systems. It has also decided to pump investments in this segment to the tune of Rs.5,000 crore. Solar energy, especially rooftop, promises to empower people at the grassroots level by providing electricity to hitherto neglected areas which have been excluded from the grid. Rooftop solar promises to revolutionise the power generation scenario in the country in years to come, given the ambitious 40-GW target for 2022 and the fact that installing rooftop projects on government and new residential buildings will become mandatory across the country in due course. Rooftop solar has done what the government could not by providing power to un-electrified areas and providing succour to people reeling under constant power cuts.
While state governments have come up with various schemes to attract rooftop solar power developers under the captive metering, gross metering and net metering models, rooftop solar is especially a win-win situation for people as it is not only more cost-effective in the absence of land requirement, but can also enable households, government departments, commercial buildings and the industry to trap captive power for later use. This can be an assured power supply arrangement for large organisations and reduce their dependence on conventional power supply. Going beyond captive metering, people can also opt for the net metering model as a source of revenue to recover the money they have invested in rooftop projects, while at the same time reserving the option of using captive power for their own consumption. Sky is literally the limit for solar in India.