India mulls ambitious solar-energy plan

Government to invest US$23bn in solar technology over next 30 years

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

India is mulling a three to four decade solar-energy plan that has been described as the most ambitious in the world to date.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is reportedly still deciding whether or not to approve the National Solar Mission, which aims to reduce India’s carbon footprint and ease its crippling power shortages. The plan will boost India’s solar-power generation capacity from almost zero to 20 gigawatts (20 billion watts) by 2020, 100GW by 2030 and 200GW by 2050, according to a draft document. The entire world can only generate about 14GW of solar power at present.

India’s plan also proposes reducing the price of solar power to the same level as that from fossil fuels by 2020. Solar power in India currently costs about 15 rupees (US40c) per kWh, compared with an average 3.5 rupees per kWh for electricity from the national grid, which is largely produced by coal-fired thermal power plants.

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Other targets include forcing all government buildings to have solar panels by 2012 and developing micro-financing to encourage 20 million households to install solar lighting by 2020. The plan also outlines a system, similar to Germany’s, of paying households for any surplus power from solar panels fed back into the grid.

In order to realise these goals, the plan proposes that the government invest 920 billion rupees (US$23 billion) in developing, manufacturing and installing solar technology over the next 30 years. India now has the capacity to produce 150GW, less than a fifth of China’s, with demand expected to outstrip supply by 9.5% between 2008-09, and by 13.8% during peak hours, according to the Power Ministry.

Environmental campaigners have welcomed the plan, saying that solar energy is India’s most realistic alternative power source, as it does not have the space for large wind plants. Siddharth Pathak, chief climate change campaigner for Greenpeace in India, said: “India’s putting a very strong argument in front of developed countries that it has huge potential for renewable energy.”
 

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