Bloomberg reports that India just increased the amount of solar power plant licenses it plans to award next year by 30 percent — a move that adds one additional gigawatt of capacity to the government’s 2015 target.
The push is part of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), which was launched in 2010 by prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The goal is to install 10 gigawatts of solar by 2017 and 20 gigawatts by 2022. India’s current solar capacity now stands at 2.18 gigawatts — part of 27 gigawatts of overall renewable capacity that includes wind and hydropower — after it added one gigawatt of solar over the course of 2013.
However, the Indian government also downscaled its target for solar-thermal plants in the same decision, reducing its 2015 target to 100 megawatts of capacity from 1,080 megawatts originally. Rather than producing electricity from solar photovoltaic cells, solar-thermal plants use mirrors to concentrate massive amounts of sunlight on a single point, thus heating water to steam that drives electricity-generating turbines. Only one of the eight solar-thermal projects India had scheduled for completion last year is finished, while the other seven have faced delays and cost overruns.
India’s push for solar has not come without a few other bumps. The JNNSM raised the ire of American officials by requiring that half of the solar components purchased to meet the target come from domestic Indian suppliers. More recently, Phase II of the JNNSM expanded that requirement to the purchase of thin film solar panels, which the U.S. often exports to India. U.S. representatives say the requirement violates trade agreements the two countries agreed to under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. India and the U.S. have until April 11 to come to an agreement before the WTO must move in itself to resolve the dispute.
“We are also clear that India has to create domestic manufacturing capacities,” India’s Commerce Minister told The Hindu in February. “India must have those capacities. Otherwise, we will end up importing for the rest of our lives.”
Two-thirds of India’s electricity currently comes from burning coal, and the country’s coal imports actually hit a record high in the last fiscal year. As a result, India’s smog problem comes close to rivaling China’s, and the combined fossil fuel use of the two countries has made Asia the biggest territorial emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. On top of that, acquiring coal supplies is becoming both a more costly endeavor for India and a less reliable one.
Climate change driven by humanity’s carbon emissions is also a serious issue for India: the latest Climate Change Vulnerability Index determined the country is facing “extreme risk” from the droughts, floods, sea level rise, and the extreme storms global warming will bring.
Finally, distributed solar for individual homeowners and families in India is also on the rise, since about 300 million of the country’s 1.2 billion people do not have access to the grid — and many who do are faced with a decrepit electrical grid and regular, even daily, power outages.
According to a report from Deustche Bank at the start of 2013, solar power has already reached grid parity in certain Indian markets — meaning it can compete without government subsidies with other forms of electrical generation.