Multi-GW PV plans shape India's bold solar strategy

Delays caused by this year’s election and the rumblings of the ongoing anti-dumping case may have slowed India’s annual PV installations for 2014 (forecast to come in at just over 800 MW), but a renewed urgency at the upper echelons of government and business promises to reinvigorate India’s solar sector next year.

State-run electric Utility NTPC – which has already pledged to invest close to $1 billion in renewable energy in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh – has this week announced that it is to install solar PV panels atop all of its thermal power plants as part of a 1 GW RE push over the next three years.

Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal confirmed to parliament that the plan will also include solar panel installation on all thermal plants currently under construction, plus a complete retrofit of NTPC’s existing fleet.

Meanwhile, Coal India Ltd. (CIL), which is the largest producer of fuel in the country, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Solar Energy Corporation India (SECI) to develop 1 GW of solar PV plants across the country.

Goyal also confirmed this project during a written consultation at parliament, stating: "Recently, CIL has signed a MoU with SECI to install 1,000 MW of solar power plants in different parts of India, including Andhra Pradesh and Telengana."

With just 2.2 MW of solar PV under its belt, this agreement represents a sizeable solar commitment for CIL, and is indicative of the changing tide of attitude currently sweeping India, particularly since pro-solar PM Narendra Modi was elected to office in May.

Goyal has previously called both CIL and NTPC "massive polluters" that "must give back to the society", and will no doubt welcome these announcements this week.

Analysts expect clean energy investment in India to reach $100 billion in the coming years as the country transitions from polluting – and increasingly expensive – coal to solar and wind energy.

The Jawajarlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) is being constantly reviewed and updated to reflect developments in the fast-paced solar sector. Its success has helped India reach the 3 GW cumulative capacity mark this year, and should drive installations beyond 5 GW by the end of 2015, says Raj Prabhu of Mercom Capital.

"We are forecasting 2015 installations to double year-on-year, reaching approximately 1,800 MW annually," wrote Prabhu in this month’s December issue of pv magazine.

Prabhu also revealed that India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is also working on a plan to "install a staggering 100 GW of solar in five years”, a goal that Prabhu considers will prove challenging due to the vast amount of grid infrastructure investment required to make this feasible.

Ready to spend

However, at the recent climate talks in Lima, Peru, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar announced that the country has “$3 billion in the kitty” for investment in infrastructure upgrades and clean energy projects designed to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuel.

Javadekar added that Modi has given him the green light to spend even more than that. "We are investing, on our own, $100 billion in clean energy projects," he told the audience at the climate talks this week. "India is committed and ready to play its part in the international fight against climate change."

As the third-largest polluter globally after China and the U.S., India’s commitment to tackling climate is also a responsibility it must bear, but Javadekar warned that emissions will need to grow in line with economic expansion as the country fights to eradicate widespread poverty.

Hence, discussions around curbing emission limits were off the table, with Javadekar eager instead to publicize India’s efforts to switch to cleaner sources of energy. A $62 billion plan outlined at the talks revealed that $1.4 billion will be steered towards solar energy projects.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), India’s emissions are expected to rise by 34% by 2020, and perhaps even double from today’s levels by 2030.