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June 29, 2017

Solar Powers India’s Clean Energy Revolution

Solar Powers India’s Clean Energy Revolution

Over 450 million ceiling fans are in use and 40 million sold each year, but 240 million people still have no legal electricity connection. Demand for electricity is growing at the same rate as in France or Germany as millions of people in rural or impoverished areas seek access to power in their homes and workplaces. 

What if India planned to meet that need with energy sources like coal?  

It isn’t. In fact, the country is focused on just the opposite.

With a sweeping commitment to solar power,, India is emerging as a front runner in the global fight against climate change.

That’s good news, because if the world expects to reach its Paris Climate Agreement objective of containing global warming to under a 2-degrees Celsius increase, it is imperative for India – the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide -- to be a global leader on renewable energy.

The World Bank is committed to supporting India’s solar energy push. , starting with a Grid Connected Rooftop Solar project that aims to put solar panels on rooftops across the country, and 100MW of energy has already been financed through this project.  Exactly a year ago, on June 30, 2016, the institution signed an agreement with the International Solar Alliance (ISA), consisting of 121 countries led by India, to collaborate on increasing solar energy use around the world and mobilize $1 trillion in investments by 2030.

With its conscious choice to use significantly more clean energy to fuel its growth, India is contributing to global efforts to save the planet from the effects of climate change. Just a few weeks ago, the country also walked away from plans to install nearly 14 GW of coal-fired power plants, largely because it is as affordable now to generate electricity with solar power as it is to use fossil fuels. 

Solar as a solution

The cost of electricity from solar photovoltaic (PV) is currently a quarter of what it was in 2009 and is set to fall another 66% by 2040. That means, .

With nearly 300 days of sunshine every year, Clearly, the market agrees, as is evident from the significant drop in the cost of solar power. In its latest solar auction, the country achieved a record low tariff of INR 2.44/unit (4 cents/unit) for a project in the desert state of Rajasthan.

The Indian government is setting ambitious targets that include 160 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar by 2022. Not only will this help hundreds of million people light their homes it will also enable children to study at night, provide families with refrigerators to preserve their food or TVs to entertain themselves after a long day of work. It is also an incentive for international firms to invest in India’s solar market.

, innovative solutions to store solar power and support for mini grids. The institution’s backing will increase the availability of private financing, introduce new technologies, and enable the development of common infrastructure to support privately developed solar parks across India.

“The World Bank financing, routed through State Bank of India (SBI), is the first time that a dedicated institutional financing has been made available for rooftop solar power plants,” Sanjeev Aggarwal, Founder and MD& CEO of Amplus Solar. “This financing will help in expeditious adoption of distributed solar by Indian consumers and will act as a significant catalyst for the growth of the rooftop solar sector in India. We will continue to work with World Bank and SBI to create innovative credit structures so that benefits of this attractive financing scheme will reach the maximum number of consumers.”



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Lighting innovations

In turning to solar, India has sought creative solutions to challenges such as limited land availability to host solar panels for a rapidly growing population. It must go beyond what Morocco has done, for instance, with its concentrated solar power that requires large tracts of land to set up giant mirrors and lenses. So, in addition to its solar parks, India is installing solar panels on rooftops and floating solar platforms on rivers and other bodies of water. It also has ambitious plans to only sell electric cars by 2030.

Still, is that enough?

India’s greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to keep increasing at least until 2030 – something it is working hard to change with serious energy efficiency measures. 

The Bank is also supporting India’s UJALA program, through which the country has distributed more than 241 million LED bulbs, making it the largest and the first zero-subsidy national LED lighting program in the world. Residential consumers can get LED bulbs from UJALA distribution centers or through participating retailers and pay upfront or in smaller installments, which make the bulbs more accessible for poorer customers.  

The program has helped save more than 6,000 MW of energy and resulted in a 25-million ton reduction in CO2 emissions per year. India plans to replace all of its 770 million incandescent bulbs with LEDs by 2019.

Other countries in the region are also adopting clean energy measures with support from the Bank.

Regional Advances

Take Pakistan, for instance. Recognizing the potential of solar energy in the country, the Bank is helping map the country’s annual average solar power potential with a free, web-based app that has the capacity to zoom into areas with a spatial resolution of 1 km, or 0.6 of a mile. The tool provides access to high resolution global and regional maps and geographic information system (GIS) data, providing investors and solar developers with an easily accessible and uniform platform to compare resource potential between sites in one region or across multiple countries.

The Bank is also working with Pakistan on the Dasu Hydropower Project, which aims to improve the country’s energy security through the use of more low-carbon energy sources and make electricity access more affordable and prevent frequent blackouts for millions of consumers, including industry, households and farmers.

And , making it the largest program of its kind in the world.  The country is also turning to standalone solar mini-grids to power up small businesses and homes in remote areas that the electricity grid does not reach, helping women like Lota Khatun earn an income.

Khatun lives with her family on the remote island of Monpura, which is served by a solar mini-grid. She now has electricity at night, and runs a sewing business from home.

“When we got solar, I bought this (sewing) machine,” Khatun said. “Now that we have light at night, I can sew at night.” 

India’s efforts demonstrate its serious commitment to mitigate climate change. But more has to happen for millions of the country’s citizens to have some of the basic conveniences that electricity provides.

“I have on more occasions than one discussed with world leaders that it's time that the world collectively decides that wherever technologies are focused towards a safer planet, we must try and make it open access… make it available to the whole world, so that we can encourage clean energy (and) sustainability while making it more affordable,” said Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy and Mines, at a recent event in Vienna.

“If we believe in it, and we work towards it collectively, all of us can make a difference.”