India’s solar revolution

 By Jim McClelland

Solar is hot in India right now…

With the country already having reaffirmed its Paris commitments, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has confidently been reporting that India might be set for a solar boom and recent events certainly seem to support that view.
Last year, India became home to the world’s largest solar plant—the giant 648MW facility, which covers an area 10 km square in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the transition to clean and green power has been accelerated by solar tariffs falling to record lows and contributing to market conditions that prompted cancellation of nearly 14GW of proposed coal plants.

According to the latest long-term forecasts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance an ongoing ‘explosion’ in installations will see cumulative solar PV capacity in India rise 67-fold, from just 10GW in 2016, to 670GW in 2040.

Kamuthi solar power plant (

With $1 in every $9 (11 percent) of total energy investment worldwide predicted to be spent in India ($1.2 trillion), the country’s widespread use of renewables will decouple economic growth from emissions, from 2029 onwards. This means zero-carbon sources will provide more than half of India’s electricity needs come the year 2040.
On the face of it, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases looks set to become the third-largest solar market this year, en route to generating almost 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2027—exceeding the Paris targets by almost half as much again, three years early. However, there is an interim deadline that remains a cause for concern.

According to analysis by IndiaSpend, hitting the Government’s stated goal of 175GW total energy generation from renewable sources by 2022 will mean adding 130.76.GW over six years, at a rate of 21.7GW per annum—which amounts to three times the new capacity figure for 2016. Of that ambitious target, as much as 100GW is to come from solar power.
With the clock ticking on that 2022 target, pension funds are on the lookout for investment opportunities and the climate appears ideal for startups and innovation in the solar space. Big or small, every contribution towards achieving the 100GW total on time is welcome. In response, the mix of solutions emerging is broad—from trains to farms and even juicy fruit.
At big infrastructure level, railways are looking to play their part. Roof-mounted solar panels on both trackside buildings, plus the actual train carriages themselves on services running from Mumbai to Jameshedpur, will together help contribute 1,000MW of power annually.
On each carriage, advance reports suggest 300W panels in batches of 12 will generate 3.6kW of power— enough to provide electricity for interior lights and fans, but not air-conditioning.

At the other end of the scale, the entrepreneurial son of a farmer has invented a solar conduction dryer to help storage of fresh produce without preservatives or additives. Now used by over 1,200 farmer cooperatives in eight countries worldwide—from France to Jamaica, as well as India—this innovative UN-award-winning design from S4S Technologies consumes less energy, so reduces the carbon footprint associated with drying and refrigeration, plus helps tackle the food crisis and support the hard-pressed rural economy.

FooDer: a solar dryer for domestic use (

One of the newest innovations is in fact coming out of what is described as “the oldest Technical Institution in Asia.” Headed by Dr Soumitra Satapathi, a team of scientists at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee are working to create more efficient thin-film solar cells using a seemingly unlikely source—the juicy summer fruit, Jamun.
The naturally-occurring pigment in Jamun is being trialled as an inexpensive photosensitizer, with fruit trees on campus providing the research inspiration. These Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSCs) or Grätzel cells are part of research into what is known as “organic electronics.”
Going forward, fostering and furthering this dynamic and creative buzz around solar, across the full spectrum of technologies and applications, will be vital for India, concludes Vinay Rustagi, Managing Director of leading consultancy and knowledge services provider BRIDGE TO INDIA, publishers of the India Solar Handbook:

“Solar is indisputably the most attractive energy source for India because of rapidly falling cost and high radiation across the country. This technology’s potential is limitless subject only to how soon and at what cost we can deal with its intermittency or variability challenge. That’s where innovation will be critical and India will have to develop homegrown solutions because learning from other countries will not be enough.”

Put simply, India is a country blessed with a climate asset available to exploit, sustainably and renewably. It enjoys more than 300 clear, sunny days a year, with annual solar incidence potential calculated by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to total 5,000 trillion kWh.
For those in the business of solar energy, India is a land of opportunity. Its urgent and ambitious goals to decarbonize the economy, make it a country hungry for innovation and investment. The solar revolution is under way in India, from trains, to farms and juicy fruit.

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about the author
Jim McClelland
Editor + journalist for supplements to The Times + Sunday Times, also quoted in Guardian, Sunday Telegraph. I blog for such as GE + Gap. Active on social media. Specialisms include Sustainability.