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India’s 20 GW solar challenge. Is it too challenging?

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India has set itself a 20 Gigawatt solar challenge to be achieved by 2020. This ambitious plan got the a in-principle approval and will cost close to $20 bn. India, for long, has been the solar destination. With the sunlight it gets, it has huge potential to harness solar energy.

The potential for solar energy is estimated for most parts of the country at around 20 MW per square kilometer of open, shadow free area covered with solar collectors.

20 gigawatts is 200,000 megawatts. That is more than the current Solar Energy installed capacity of 150,000 megawatts from all sources.  Let’s just say we have 11 years to produce 20 gigawatts of solar energy. That would be 1.8 gigawatts per year or 1500 megawatts per month.

The project is split in to 3 phases. In the first phase it will generate 1-1.5 GW of solar power by 2012. Another 6-7 GW by 2017 and the rest by 2020.

India says it could cut about 42 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions with its new solar plan. An estimated 20 million solar lights are estimated to save 1 billion litres of kerosene per annum by 2020.

All look very good on paper but when we do the math it does not match. India gets 53% of its current power from coal, 25% from hydro sources and only 8% from renewable sources. Of the renewable sources wind is the major contributor. Solar contributes to 2.12 MW at the end of June, 2009.

From 2.12 megawatts to 20 Gigawatts in 11 years. How does India plan to do it?

It aims to cut down production costs of solar panels and spur domestic manufacturing. Money will be spent on incentives for production, installation and research and development.

It costs 20 crore rupees to set-up a solar plant producing 1 Megawatt of electricity. That would boil down to 15 rupees per unit of electricity. Very expensive in this cost conscious and highly subsidized Indian market.

Even if it crossed all the hurdles and spent more money on research and development, made the solar panels efficient, discovered new materials and brought the overall costs down to make solar energy compete with coal, 20 GW still looks elusive to me. I would blame it on the goal rather than the solar power itself.

The problem with goal setting is, most of them are not realistic. Since it is 10 years down the line people forget to be pragmatic and factor in assumptions which are bound to go wrong.

Why set-up a goal which looks so hulk-like that people give up even before starting. Why not set-up small and realistic goals which are more achievable?

I see the 1 GW in 3 years goal as a part of this plan. That is small for sure but that is ambitious as hell.

Of all the goals India has set itself over the past 60 years I think it has only met one goal. That happens to be Indian telecom’s goal of getting 500 million subscribers by 2010 or 2012. Every other goal set has fallen on its back. Be it building 20 kms of road every day or the rural electrification goal or any other goal.

Now, we might add one more goal to that list – adding adding 50 Megawatts of solar power everyday.

I just hope I am wrong.

  1. sandeep says

    when it comes to solar energy its a common understanding to use solar panels which are expensive.

    Thanks to corruption in Inida CSP is still in the stages of discussion…link here : http://www.solarpaces.org/News/Projects/India.htm

    There is very little being done in India with CSP (concentrated solar power) which is least expensive but need some engineering to set it right. Anybody interested, we can team up and start a private firm to give it a kick. This is my long term goals.
    I am in Bangalore.

    http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/csp.htm

  2. Youssef says

    Well, you might be right about the fact that the goal is hard to achieve.

    But India is setting this as a goal becuse they want to get forien money invested in this project, this money is expected to be form the developed countries such as USA and europian countries. As this project would be the solution of the “pollution-clean” development of India, which was one of the controversial subjects in the last few years.

    And I think that India can achieve this goal if they got the financial and manufacturing help they want form developed countries.

  3. Barrys Home Solar Energy says

    20,000 MW is still a great start and needed much more here than in other parts of the world.

  4. curious thinker says

    isnt 20 GW equal to 20,000 MW??

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