India shines with solar power

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change that nations around the world signed in 2015 under the aegis of the United Nations has set the goal of remaining below a 2°C warming threshold.

To attain this objective, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions will need to peak in the coming years and be reduced to zero by 2050. China, India and the United States play a key role in achieving this target, as together they emit over 50 percent of the global CO2 emissions and accordingly are by far the largest markets were renewable energy production needs to be accelerated.

With the US backtracking from its commitments to the Paris Agreement, it is now even more important that the remaining two largest CO2 emitters, China and India, do more than their share in order for the world to achieve its climate target. India is already leading the developing countries as they emerge as the major driver of the world’s gradual but steady transition to renewable energy.

Major increase in investments and projects for renewable energy installations have propelled the Indian renewable energy auction market into the world’s largest market for new renewable energy generation projects. Over 11 Gigawatt (GW) of projects were awarded through auctions in 2017 resulting in the best year for solar capacity as installations jumped by 90 percent from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the country is also the second-largest destination, after Chile, when it came to attracting investments in renewable energy. A total of over US$9 billion flowed into the renewable sector in 2017. Also, for the first time, in 2017 renewable energy installations in India exceeded those by polluting coal power plants, which currently form the largest chunk of Indian energy production.

Of the total 346GW generated in 2018, coal accounted for over 60 percent, while 71GW came from renewable energy excluding large hydropower projects. As the government’s ambitious plans to install 175 GW of renewables by 2022 gathers pace, coal’s share in energy is slowly being reduced. The authorities have cut the coal capacity target for 2027 by 11GW.

While 2017 was a record year for investments in clean energy, the year gone by is set to challenge that with total investments in renewables crossing $7 billion in just the first six months of 2018. India’s renewable energy auction capacity also increased by 68 percent from the figure a year earlier.

The majority of investments were in solar power projects, a market which witnessed a doubling in size in 2017 with annual Photovoltaic (PV) installations of almost 9.4GW. After dipping in the second half of 2018, government tenders picked up again in December, when India’s ministry of new and renewable energy announced plans to issue tenders for 60 GW by March 2020.

Apart from large-scale projects, installation of domestic rooftop solar panels also continues to rise. One reason why Indian households have not yet warmed to rooftop solar panels is their high cost of purchase.

But commercial and industrial buildings, which are supplied grid electricity at significantly higher rates than residential users, are increasingly finding it economical to switch over to solar panels.

However, India’s renewable energy market is not without its own set of challenges. Sharp duties on imported solar panels, in a bid to encourage local production, have led to decline in new solar capacity additions in 2018. Of the 175GW target for 2022, 100 GW of renewable energy was slated to come from solar power, but analysts have warned that the way things are going, this goal is looking extremely unlikely.

In addition to hampering the development of solar installations in the country, local production, which is currently incapable of meeting existing demand, has also denied potential PV users of benefitting from the fall in price of PV panels on the international market.

Some of the largest solar power projects in the world are currently in India with the country accounting for three of the top five spots at the end of 2018.

Noor Power Complex in Morocco: Located in the Sahara Desert, this complex is the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant. The first phase of the three-phase project completed in 2016 began producing 160MW of the planned total capacity of 580MW and reduced the country’s carbon emissions by hundreds of thousands of tonnes annually. When fully commissioned in 2020, the complex is set to provide electricity to nearly a million homes.

Kamuthi Solar Power Plant in Tamil Nadu: Located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and spanning 10 square kilometers, this solar plant has a total power generating capacity of 648MW. When commissioned in 2016, it was touted as the largest solar power plant in a single location and produced enough electricity to power over 150,000 homes.

Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in China: Spread over 25 square kilometers and an installed capacity of 850MW this plant was the world’s largest solar power generator in February of 2017. The power plant generates around 220GW of electricity per year, enough to power over 200,000 households.

Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park in Andhra Pradesh: With an installed capacity of 1,000 MW, this solar park takes the second spot globally. Spread across 23 square kilometers, this solar park had within five months of becoming operational in May 2017 generated over 800 million units of energy and saved over 700,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Shakti Sthala in Karnataka: Holder of the current title for largest solar project in the world, this solar park with a total capacity of 2,000MW easily outstrips the nearest competitor, also from India, by a cool 1,000MW.

Spanning an area of 521.5 square kilometers and spread across five villages the project when completed will provide enough electricity to power over 700,000 households.

Other mega solar power projects in India include the Pavagada Solar Park in Karnataka, the Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan, the Charanka Solar Park in Gujarat and the Sakri Solar Plant in Maharasthra.