India's ideal solar roadmap could add 145 GW of PV within decade, says report

The potential for solar power to completely transform India’s energy mix is vast – provided the country’s decision-makers follow the most fruitful solar roadmap, argue analysts at Bridge to India and Tata Power Solar .

Their joint report, titled How should India drive its solar transformation? Beehives or Elephants, compared four distinct solar scenarios for India’s future: one driven by residential rooftops (solar bees); one led by large rooftops (solar pigeons); a utility-scale future (solar horses), or a strategy built around ultra-mega projects (solar elephants).

Indian cleantech experts Bridge to India analyzed each scenario in terms of landed cost of power (LCOP) – which measures the cost of solar power to the consumer at the point of consumption rather than generation – alongside the more traditional levelized cost of energy (LCOE). Analysts at both Bridge to India and Tata Power Solar believe that the LCOP, which can be as much as 30% higher than LCOE, should become the de-facto economic metric for measuring India’s solar potential.

In doing so, India could add between 110 GW and 145 GW of solar power over the next ten years cumulatively across the four scenarios, say the report’s authors, who evaluated each scenario’s potential speed of deployment, implementation challenges and job creation potential.

"The realizable potential for solar power generation in India is between 110 GW to 145 GW across different types of systems," said Bridge to India founder and director Tobias Engelmeier. "The four scenarios together could easily create over 675,000 solar jobs in India in the next 10 years.

"But the real issue," Engelmeier added, "is to choose the best way for India to go solar that entails a fair choice between millions of small systems ("bees") on one end of a spectrum, and a few very large systems ("elephants") on the other; the former creating a consumer market and the latter an infrastructure market."

Coal parity

The report calculates that the LCOE for ultra-mega plants in India is INR 6.6/kWh, with LCOP at INR 8.4/kWh – an already-attractive rate that is close to grid parity with imported coal. As coal is expected to increase in cost over the next few years, the other three scenarios should soon be able to reach coal parity during that time, the report suggests.

Longer-term, the report suggests that large rooftop systems – the pigeons – will prove the cheapest option for Indian solar, achieving an LCOE of INR 6.6/kWh and an LCOP of just INR 6.7/kWh by 2024.

"Solar is unique in its limitless potential for power generation – from distributed to centralized generation, and residential kW to GW-scale solar plants, the permutations are endless," said Tata Power Solar CEO Ajay Goel. "To solarize our economy, it is important to find the right mixture of pathways that will have both economic as well as social impact."

The report also suggests that rooftop projects will prove better for the economy than large-scale projects, creating significantly more job opportunities. Workers and bees appears to be the best fit, however, with the small rooftop scenario able to add 325,000 jobs and 25 GW of PV capacity.

The key to achieving this growth, the report suggests, is striking a correct balance between the four scenarios, and accurately pitching ramp-up opportunities via both central and distributed generation.