India added just over 1 gigawatt of solar energy to its electrical grid last year, a major milestone that nearly doubles the country’s cumulative solar energy capacity to 2.18 gigawatts. After a slow start to the year, solar installation picked up rapidly — a good sign that India will be able to meet its ambitious solar targets going forward. India hopes to install 10 GW of solar by 2017 and 20 GW by 2022.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, launched in 2010 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, aims to help the country achieve success with solar energy deployment. India is currently in the planning stages of building the world’s largest solar plant, which would generate 4 gigawatts in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.
“This is the first project of this scale anywhere in the world and is expected to set a trend for large-scale solar power developments,” Ashvini Kumar, director of Solar Energy Corp, one of five public utilities that will run the plant, told Business Insider.
In the last decade India’s renewable energy capacity has gone from just under 4 GW to over 27 GW as of this month. Wind energy makes up about two-thirds of this total, with small hydropower contributing nearly 4 GW and biomass over 1 GW.
Last weekend India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate to promote renewable energy, especially solar.
“The MoU has come at a time when India is struggling to implement ambitious plans to reach out to the population without access to modern forms of energy across the country,” said Jarnail Singh, India Program Manager at the Climate Group.
40 percent of rural Indian households don’t have power. India is also anxious to develop domestic energy sources to supply growing demand so it doesn’t have to import fossil fuels that contribute to trade deficits. Over half of India’s electric power capacity comes from coal, with coal imports hitting a record high last fiscal year. This is bad both environmentally and economically for India.
In a further indication that renewable energy has a large role to play in India’s future, last year the largest coal company in the world, Coal India, starting pursuing commercial solar power plants to cut costs. The company explained its logic, in part, by saying “India has an abundance of sunshine and the trend of depletion of fossil fuels is compelling energy planners to examine the feasibility of using renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and so on.”