The solar power sector has been growing at a remarkable pace in India, with the total energy currently being generated by harnessing the heat of sun crossing 50 GW mark. Technological innovations, government assistance, large size project configurations and good management practices have all played a significant part in helping solar energy gain widespread acceptance in the country.
Solar energy, however, is majorly concentrated only in few areas of the country with five states accounting for 70% of the total energy generation capacity in the country. An interesting thing to note here is that even within these states, solar energy is concentrated only in few districts. It was found that three districts in the state of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka dominated when it came to production and distribution of solar energy.
India added a record 10 Gigawatt (GW) of solar energy thereby taking the total to above 50GW. This has been a record high for the past 12-months, and marks year-over-year growth of 200%. The country has ambitious plans of generating over 500 GW of power by 2030 from renewable energy, out of which solar energy is expected to contribute 300 GW.
India solar energy journey is beyond impressive, but still there are a few areas of concern that need to be addressed. First and foremost, of the 50 GW installed solar capacity, an overwhelming part of it, close to 42 GW comes from ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, And the remaining 8 GW comes from roof top solar (RTS) and off-grid solar PV. This in turn fails to capitalize on the fact that a lot of energy is wasted during transmission. One of the primary benefits of installation at the point of consumption is that it significantly reduces power loss during transmission, but unfortunately this is not happening in India. Encouraging rooftop installation can play an important part in bringing down the overall cost of installations and help in taking advantage of economies of scale.
What dogs India’s solar power capacity addition?
As mentioned earlier, India’s growth in the installed solar capacity addition has been significant. Unfortunately, the total input of solar energy to the country’s overall power generation has failed to keep pace with capacity installation. For example, in 2019-20, solar power’s contribution of 50 billion units constituted just 3.6% of India’s total power generation of 1390 BU.
The primary reason for it is that the utility-scale solar PV sector has to continuously grapple with a host of issues ranging from high land costs, high T&D losses to grid integration inefficiencies. Solar panel installation also to deal with resistance from locl communities and certain environmental groups. What it means is that despite record low tariffs for solar power generation, end users are still forced to pay more for power generated from sun.
India’s domestic solar energy capacity
India’s domestic solar energy capacity fails to match the present demand for solar energy in the country. As per Crisil’s report on solar energy production in the country, India only had 3 GW solar cell production and 8 GW solar panel production capacity. However, what is more troubling is that India completely lacks the ability to manufacture solar wafers and polysilicon. In 2021-22 alone, India’s total import bill for solar cells and modules from China was a whopping $76.62 billion. There’s two-fold reason for such a mammoth import bill. First India lacks the manufacturing capabilities and technical knowhow to manufacture solar cells, and secondly imports from China are much cheaper, which makes products made in India rather uncompetitive. Experts believe that this situation can be rectified to an extent if India adopts a circular economy model for solar systems. This way PV waste can be effectively recycled and subsequently reused in the solar PV supply chain. This to an extent can be achieved through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model, where the onus of entire life cycle of sola PV products would lie on the manufacturer. The manufacturers shall also be responsible for setting standards for waste recycling.
India is progressing at a quick pace when it comes to solar energy. The current electricity crisis where more than 75% of the households in the country are facing severe electricity crisis, has further emphasized the need for harnessing solar energy. The lack of adequate coal supply coupled with intense heat has led to one of the worst electricity crises in the country in decades. This further advocates the need for harnessing renewable sources of energy in the country.