If you look at the origins of civilization, you would notice a pattern. Pretty much all ancient civilizations that first developed agriculture arose in warm areas. These civilizations were a prototype of modern society. From Mesopotamia in the northern Middle East, the Indus Valley Civilization in modern day Pakistan and of course the ancient civilizations of Egypt and China, all of these early nations benefited from the warmth of their surroundings. This allowed them to excel in agriculture and advance their technologies. People living in colder climates struggled to survive back then.
As human society progressed, the center of power shifted from hot areas to cold areas. This happened for many reasons. Including more advanced farming techniques that compensated for cold weather. As well as a modern economy that benefits productivity which is facilitated more in cold rather than hot areas. However, a renewable energy revolution is currently taking place all over the world. It is leading to the phasing out of fossil fuels. This is shifting the balance of power back in the direction of hotter nations. India in particular seems to be a good example of such a thing happening.
Solar power is by far the most popular form of renewable energy. A country as bright and sunny as India was inevitably going to become a world leader in this field. India hasn’t just managed to create excellent solar power solutions that allowed a shift away from fossil fuels. It has also lead the charge in many ways. It founded the International Solar Alliance. This is a coalition of 121 countries working together to advance and implement solar power technology. India has emerged as a revolutionary world power when it comes to renewable energy. We will be analyzing India’s success and charting the path they took from a poor, barely developed nation to an economic powerhouse that has been instrumental in the advancement of solar power technology.
The Beginning: How, When, Where & Why The Indian Solar Revolution Started
India’s focus on renewable energy sources goes as far back as the 1960s. This was well before most developed nations started to focus on this sort of thing. This came from a variety of factors. One major factor was that India was poor. This meant that importing fuel was cost prohibitive. Hence, researching renewable energy for power independence was a natural path for the still young nation to take.
Yet, this focus on renewable energy solutions, or RES for short, was for geothermal and water based power. Solar power was more of an afterthought. It was more of a supplement or backup in case the primary solutions required support. Starting in the 80s India began to move away from geothermal and hydro power. It began focusing instead on solar energy, so much so that their RES industry is more or less entirely focused on solar power with the previous mainstays receding into the background.
There are a number of factors that contributed to this. Solar power might seem like the logical energy solution due to factors mentioned below, but in the 60s and 70s the technology simply wasn’t advanced enough to be practical. What’s more was that it was extremely expensive in those decades, making solar power more of a pipe dream for the erstwhile poor and developing post-colonial India. Two things happened in the 80s that partially contributed to the rise of solar power in the nation. Firstly, implementing solar power solutions became a lot more affordable. Secondly, India’s economy had grown quite a bit by the 80s which meant that revolutionary energy solutions became a lot more feasible regardless of increased affordability.
Why did India need revolutionary energy solutions in the first place? Well, India has always had problems providing enough power to its population because said population is divided into two categories, both of which are difficult to facilitate energy-wise. People in India in the 80s, and today still to some extent, lived either in enormous, cramped and poorly planned megacities or in disparate rural communities.
The latter of these two was the most difficult to facilitate. Rural communities needed a grid-independent energy solution. Wherever a conventional power grid set up was not feasible, solar power could come in to fill in the gaps. This solved a lot of logistical issues and managed to provide tens of millions of people with electricity. Even if a consistent power supply couldn’t be provided, individual solar powered items such as light bulbs and batteries could be used to provide some relief for the energy starved populace.
So, India had an energy problem. Why did they choose solar power to solve it? Because most areas in India get, on average, 300 sunny days a year! This makes solar power the single most efficient form of energy generation for the country.
Hence, a power source that seemed custom made for India’s climate which facilitated off-grid energy production for its many remote rural communities which was rapidly becoming more affordable was simply the obvious choice for the nation.
The Many Advantages& Some Disadvantages of Solar Power For India
The factors that impacted India’s focus on solar power in the 80s remain important today, but there are many other auxiliary benefits as well.
For starters, solar power produces far less pollution than alternatives. While it does have a carbon footprint, it is far less polluting than fossil fuels. Even other renewable energy sources such as hydroelectricity and geothermal power tend to have more of an environmental impact than solar power. A rapidly industrializing nation such as India was producing a lot of pollution, and an energy source that wouldn’t further add to this phenomenon had many obvious benefits.
Furthermore, as we have already stated previously, India’s rural population was difficult to connect to a centralized power grid. The portability of solar power solutions made it easier to implement them in said communities. A village with solar panels can have supply to unlimited electricity which is an enormous privilege many people take for granted.
Yet another advantage of solar power is the low maintenance costs. While some maintenance is required, a faulty panel won’t result in massive power outages. It would also be relatively easy to fix. Faults are rare too, and mostly upkeep involves regular cleaning of the solar panels.
Now that we have discussed the many benefits India gets from solar power, we must discuss the disadvantages. Solar power isn’t perfect and acknowledging disadvantages is crucial to furthering its development.
There is one major disadvantage to solar power use. This is that it is very costly even after many advancements. Most people in rural communities are very poor and can’t afford personal solar panels. Providing them can be expensive for the government as well due to the number required. What’s more is that a whole array of solar panels is a massive investment and it can sometimes be cheaper to import oil instead. India is currently putting a lot of money towards mass producing their own panels, but until these operations begin working smoothly the scarcity of solar panels will continue to be an issue.
Another issue is that solar power can only be generated during the day. While it can be stored for nighttime use this requires the use of a battery. This further increases the cost of total energy self sufficiency. Thermodynamic panels are sometimes considered superior. Because they can generate energy at any point, including night time. A further minor issue is that solar power does produce some pollution. Small though the amount may be, the eventual goal is to produce no pollution at all so some advancements still need to be made here.
It’s fair to say, however, that these disadvantages are greatly outweighed by the advantages.
India’s Solar Power Achievements
India’s first committed foray into solar power began in 1981 with the formation of the Commission for Additional Sources of Electricity or CASE for short. CASE focused mostly on the promotion and funding of solar power solutions and facilitating integration into the regular power grid. Apart from CASE, STEC was also established. STEC, or the Solar Thermal Energy Center, was more focused on research and technological advancements. It was meant to maximize how much energy India could produce through the use of solar energy.
These two institutions got to work, and within the next two years India installed approximately two dozen industrial heaters running on solar power. During this period, another department was formed named the Department for Non-Conventional Energy Sources or DNES. Unlike the previous two institutions that operated fairly autonomously, DNES came directly under the Ministry of Energy. It’s focus was similar to that of CASE, essentially obtaining funding and handling logistics for renewable energy advancement.
With all of these institutions and departments established for funding and research, the time had come for India to move towards production. This is where NASPAD was formed. NASPAD is the National Solar Photovoltaic Energy Demonstration program. This confluence of research on solar power lead to the development of the Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell between 1985 and 1990. This was far more efficient than older models.
Yet another organization was created in 1987. IREDA, or the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency, was unique in that it received foreign funding from the Asian Bank and the Netherlands among other places.
It was between 1992 and 1997, with the presence of the Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell, that India realized the benefits of solar power for the over 10,000 villages that did not have access to electricity. This new idea lead to a further increased effort by India to advance solar technology to make it more feasible. It marked a shift from a primarily research based approach to active implementation planning.
Independent investors started to get in on things over the next five years. The Independent Renewable Power Producer was allowed to access official power lines, thereby making it easier to commercialize solar power production. This was initiated by a Special Action Plan that outlined the standardization of the solar power model. An upgrade to photovoltaic cell based solar panels was planned. Additionally, the Program Aimed at Technological Self Reliance, or PATSER, was launched. This program was meant to further upgrade solar tech being used at the time.
India has a long history of advancing solar technology. It was perhaps the first country to dedicate so many resources to switching to solar power. With the number of villages getting access to electricity increasing day by day, India continues to break new ground with this energy source.
Important Events in India’s Solar Power History
As India’s focus on research and development bore fruit, the nation started to focus on educating people about solar power. The Barefoot Solar Engineers was founded, and it focused on teaching rural communities about this energy source. People were taught how to operate solar powered devices as well as basic maintenance skills. The BSE also created jobs for people in this sector. In this manner, India managed to focus on energy self sufficiency whilst also focusing on its economy.
In January 2010, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission was established which sought to fully cement India’s energy self sufficiency goals and achieve them by 2022. The progress that India has made in this regard is nothing short of remarkable. While the initial goal was to reach 20 GW energy production through solar power, by 2018 India had already crossed 30 GW. The goal was quickly revised, and India now plans to attain 100 GW of electricity through solar power by 2022.
Given India’s track record of hard work and success in this field, it seems likely that this goal would be met. This would make India the only major country in the world that relies entirely on renewable energy, and managing to do this with a population of nearly 1.5 billion is a truly astronomical feat.
Getting The People Involved
At some point it wasn’t going to be enough for the government to develop solar power on its own. The people needed to become involved in a private capacity. Until companies started to become involved, India’s energy self sufficiency goals would remain unfeasible. Hence, in the 21st century India has started focusing on incentivizing the private production and dissemination of solar power.
This started in 2003 with the Electricity Act. This created a pricing scheme that would reasonable and affordable consumers whilst also providing profit making opportunities for investors. In 2005, the National Electricity Policy was implemented. This aimed to further facilitate the private distribution of all renewable energy with a particular emphasis placed on solar power. The 2008 National Action Plan set even more ambitious goals for India’s energy production thanks to the success that had consistently been seen. Finally in 2017, the India government announced the Semiconductor Policy which aimed to promote the benefits of semiconductors in collaboration with private investors.
Where India Stands Now
India now produces four times the solar power it did just four years ago. This is an exponential rate of growth. There are few countries that have managed to grow as fast in solar energy as India. India isn’t just a global leader in solar power research and production. It also manages to be the cheapest place to gain access to this form of energy by making installation costs extremely affordable. India’s rural poor needed a cost effective energy solution, and their government got to work developing one.
India’s goals are extremely ambitious as well. As has been stated above, India produces over 30 GW of solar energy per year. However, only 2 GW comes from rooftop solar panels. Rooftop panels are essential for energy self sufficiency in rural areas.
This is why India has pledged to generate 40 GW of electricity through rooftop panels by 2022. This means that rooftop panels will go from 6% of total solar power production to 40%. This can only be possible if India goes into mass production overdrive. An enormous wave of solar panels might soon come in the country. This could potentially reduce the global price of solar panels immensely.
India’s plans may seem far fetched, but remember that this is a country that set a goal for 2022 and had already exceeded it by 50% by 2018. A further increase could very well be possible given India’s track record.
Where India Will Go From Here
India plans to facilitate investment in solar power through the issuing of bonds. Due to the sheer scale of India’s population, this could potentially flood the government with funds for solar power development. The growth of the industry will increase the value of the bonds as well. Hence, people that purchase the bonds won’t just be helping their country achieve an energy goal. They would be making a sound, profitable financial investment as well.
A media campaign is also being implemented to spread awareness. A populace that doesn’t know how amazing solar power is would not be motivated to work towards it after all. In fact, India is adding renewable energy education to its standard curriculum. This type of knowledge is about to become very common in India.
India started off with timid experimentation with solar power in the 1960s. By the ‘80s, India had begun its solar power journey in earnest. Over the next few decades, India made advancements and became a leader in this field. Thanks to technical advancements, the benefits of solar power for India’s rural populace were discovered. This was the start of a new era.
Solar power isn’t just cheaper for India. It’s also a lot easier to implement. India’s unique demography requires unique solutions. Solar energy is one such solution. It solves the problem of impossible grid arrangements and instead focuses on independent energy production.
With India’s plans for 2022, it’s clear that the 20s might just be India’s decade. Being energy independent is an enormous achievement. It’s something that powerful and rich nations have failed to achieve so far. If a nation of billions of people can convert successfully to solar power, it will pave the way for a wider adoption of this energy source.
India’s cunning and revolutionary forays into solar power have showed the world that the future is solar and nothing else. Other countries will have a hard time resisting the solar tide once India has shown everyone what it can do. When the country’s goals are reached, it will have enough power for everyone and will also produce far less pollution. Suffice it to say that the world needs a lot more countries like India.