India leads Spain, UK in wind energy generation; affordable solar panels could cause a clean energy boom

A new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) could certainly push the investments in solar energy. According to the report, solar and wind energy generation has reached the same price point or is cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in over 30 countries.


Renewable energy is an area that is expected to take off in India, thanks to the ambitious mission stated by the Ministry of New and Renewable energy. It states, "24x7 affordable environment friendly power for all by 2019." The government also plans to generate around 40 percent of its power from non-fossil fuels by 2030.

With the electronics market projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 24.4 percent between 2012-2020 and expected to reach $400bn by 2022, it is only natural that we started looking at fossil-free sources of energy. India's per capita energy consumption has seen sustained increase over the years (from 734kWh in 2008-09 to 1075 kWh in 2015-16), but it is still the lowest among the BRICS nationsWith the whole push towards putting India on the digital highway, our energy infrastructure backbone has to grow proportionately. Investing and accelerating the dependence of renewable energy source is definitely deemed to play a major role in this.

 India leads Spain, UK in wind energy generation; affordable solar panels could cause a clean energy boom

Image: Reuters

Did you know, India is at the fourth position in terms of installed wind power capacity, ahead of Spain, UK, France, Canada. As on 31 October, 2016, Solar Energy Projects with an aggregate capacity of over 8727.62 MW have been installed in the country. India's total solar capacity is 10GW and the government plans to take it to 17GW by 31 March 2017. Here are the targets of the government for renewable energy generation for the next three years.

Source 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Solar Power 12,000 15,000 16,000
Wind 4000 4600 5200
Biomass 500 750 850
SHP 225 100 100
Grand Total 16725* 20450* 22150*

* Capacity in Mega Watts (Source: Press Information Bureau)

Thanks to the hot weather in majority of the Indian landscape, we are in a position of advantage as far as generating solar energy is concerned. That a relatively cooler country such as Germany can generate over 35GW of solar energy, should give us enough confidence to achieve the numbers the government is looking at. Just last month, news emerged that India has the largest solar power plant at a single location (Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu) with a capacity of 648MW - which has the capacity to power 150,000 homes.

In order to achieve these targets, solar panels installed capacity has to see a boost in numbers. We will need many Kamuthi-like examples across the country. A new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) could certainly push the investments in solar energy. According to the report, solar and wind energy generation has reached the same price point or is cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in over 30 countries.

Michael Drexler, leading infrastructure and development investing at WEF has said in a statement that investing in solar and wind is not only commercially viable, but a compelling investment with long term returns.

According to the WEF report, there are more political barriers rather than economic ones. "Contracts are not standardized, regulatory uncertainty remains, and financial institutions have not created an asset class with a public, standardized track record that will reassure mainstream investors," says the report.

Challenges faced

One of the main challenge which is stopping solar energy generation from taking off in India has been the costs associated with solar photovoltaics, when compared to those associated with other energy generation methods (read fossil-fuel based ones). With the WEF report hinting a drop in prices, this issue should not be that great a challenge going forward. Economies of scale, innovations in technology and dropping equipment prices should bring in some correction here.

Land acquisition is another concern, considering a 1MW of solar power generation requires around 5 acres of land. The government is trying to overcome this issue by earmarking dedicated solar parks across the country. "34 Solar Parks of capacity 20,000 MW in 21 states have been sanctioned which are under various stages of execution," says an MNRE report.

Evacuation of the generated solar energy is another challenge. According to this report in Livemint, Power Grid Corporation of India has been asked to have separate transmission lines to evacuate green energy. While initially there will only by inter-state transmission lines, local government are expected to distribute the energy inside their respective states.

As mentioned before, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has ambitious plans. All that's needed is a focussed approach towards overcoming the challenges mentioned above.

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