When will solar power finally be cheap enough to go on sale?
Solar energy companies, whose revenues have surged in recent years, say the time is right for a nationwide rollout of the technology, but the time to act is now.
Solar Power Association of India president Rakesh Kumar Singh said the industry will soon be ready to launch commercial installations, even as it struggles to overcome regulatory hurdles to ramp up commercial deployments in the country.
“We have a lot of hurdles to overcome, so we will have to get into the next phase,” he said.
India is one of the few countries that is yet to deploy a commercially viable solar energy grid.
“In this period of time, the solar market is still very small and not at the point where it can compete with grid-scale electricity, but it will be soon,” said Arvind Agarwal, director of the Center for Advanced Energy Storage at MIT, referring to the potential for solar power in India.
“What I am saying is that in this period, we are likely to see a lot more companies, some of which will be competing with grid scale, as they have the technology.”
India’s solar market could grow to more than one trillion dollars by 2020 if it were to become a large market, said Prakash Agarwala, chief executive of the National Solar Corporation of India (NSECI).
“We are in a situation where there is a lot to do, there is no room to do anything without taking a lot, but there is still a lot left,” Agarwa said.
The company is now aiming to achieve a net-zero electricity cost by the end of 2020, while ramping up commercial installations.
The goal is to have one million households with solar power by 2022, Agarawa said.
Solar power accounts for roughly a third of India’s electricity consumption, and a recent study from the World Bank estimated that solar energy would help reduce carbon emissions by nearly 10 percent by 2035.
Solar energy is cheaper than traditional coal and nuclear power, which are both expensive and often pollute the atmosphere, Agarsawala said.
As of early 2019, India’s total installed capacity was around 7.7 gigawatts (GW), according to the National Renewable Energy Agency (NREA), a government agency.
By 2022, India is expected to add 1 GW of new solar capacity, according to data from the NREA.
But a lack of financing, slow economic growth, corruption and a lack or lack of government support has hampered the industry’s ability to expand.
India has the world’s highest number of unlicensed solar energy facilities, according an analysis by Greenpeace India.
Greenpeace estimated that about 70 percent of the country’s solar installations were not registered with the government and that many of them had no license to install solar power.
India, which has an estimated 15 GW of installed solar capacity and has a population of around 4 billion, has been grappling with a rapid decline in solar power over the last decade, with solar capacity declining by more than 60 percent between 2010 and 2019, according a Greenpeace report.
India’s solar energy generation capacity dropped by more that 80 percent between 2014 and 2019.
Greenpeace said India’s current solar power capacity has dropped to more then 1.3 GW, while its installed capacity has declined to less than 700 MW.
India currently has about 15 GW installed solar power and about 1.8 GW of unregistered solar power, the Greenpeace report said.
Greenpeace also found that there are more than 4,000 unlicensed power plants in the state of Punjab, the world most populous state.
Greenpeace’s India report also found a shortage of capacity in some rural areas of the state, with just 4 percent of India recorded as having a solar power plant, the lowest percentage in the world.
“India has the largest solar power market, but we know that it is very slow growing,” Agarswa said, adding that India is not ready to go to a market size where it is competing with a grid.
A solar energy industry analyst with a prominent Indian bank, who asked not to be named, said India is yet at the stage of commercial deployment.
“The country has an existing grid, and that is a huge asset for the industry.
It has a lot on its plate, and the market is ripe for investment,” he told Reuters.
The growth of solar power has been slow in India, with a recent government survey showing that only about 8 percent of households had installed solar in the last five years, compared with roughly 40 percent in China, Brazil, South Africa and the U.K. In the last year, India has seen a surge in solar-generated electricity capacity, including new solar thermal plants, said Agarwar.
But there is also a gap in infrastructure that is critical to building a robust commercial solar grid, Agaswala said, including roads, power lines, distribution networks, power transmission lines, and grid management facilities.
India could see a surge of