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India’s international solar leadership: Walking the talk?

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    11th Dec, 2021


  • Renewable energy has never been a hotter - or more important - point of discussion than it is today.
  • Many governments, businesses, corporations, and individuals all around the world have begun to wake up to the need for more renewable energy.
  • It plays a vital role in securing sustainable energy with lower emissions.
  • It is already accepted that renewable energy technologies might significantly cover the electricity demand and reduce emissions. 

In recent years, India has developed a sustainable path for its energy supply. Awareness of saving energy has been promoted among citizens to increase the use of solar, wind, biomass, waste, and hydropower energies. It is evident that clean energy is less harmful and often cheaper. 

  • India is aiming to attain 175 GW of renewable energy which would consist of 100 GW from solar energy, 10 GW from bio-power, 60 GW from wind power, and 5 GW from small hydropower plants by the year 2022. 
  • Recent estimates show that in 2047, solar potential will be more than 750 GW and wind potential will be 410 GW.
  • To reach the ambitious targets of generating 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, it is essential that the government creates 330,000 new jobs and livelihood opportunities.

This brief examines India’s international leadership in renewable, especially solar leadership.

What is the need of ‘transition’ to renewable energy?

  • Increased greenhouse gas emission: The sources of electricity production such as coal, oil, and natural gas have contributed to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. It is essential to raise the standard of living by providing cleaner and more reliable electricity. 
  • Increased energy demand:India has an increasing energy demand to fulfill the economic development plans that are being implemented. The provision of increasing quantities of energy is a vital prerequisite for the economic growth of a country.
    • According to a World Energy Council prediction, global electricity demand will peak in 2030. India is one of the largest coal consumers in the world and imports costly fossil fuel. Close to 75% of the energy demand is supplied by coal and oil.
  • High energy yield: Solar energy has ability to live grid free if all power generated is enough for the home or building.
  • Social development- In many rural areas, huge power shortage leads to underdevelopment of human resource. It also leads to dependency on kerosene.
  • Increased imports:According to a report from the Center for Monitoring the Indian economy, the country imported 171 million tons (MT) of coal in 2013–2014, which has risen to 213 MT in 2017–2018. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiaimported around 107.34 MT of coal in first half of FY22.Therefore, there is an urgent need to find alternate sources for generating electricity.

Renewable energy

  • It is an energy that is generated from the renewable sources – the ones that can be replenished quickly on par with human demand.
  • Renewable energy sources include solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy, etc.
  • These sources, if used to produce energy, can reduce the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.
  • Renewable energy is often used in the following areas:
    • Electricity generation
    • Heating/cooling of air and water
    • Transportation
    • Stand-alone power system or Remote Area Power Supply (RAPS) for rural areas.
  • In recent years, renewable energy is globally established as the mainstream energy source.
  • It has been estimated that the share of renewables in the global electricity generation is more than 24% by the end of 2019.
  • Also, renewables make up one-third of the global installed power capacity.

Types of Renewable Energy

  • Solar Energy: The radiant light and heat energy from the sun is harnessed with the use of solar collectors. These solar collectors are of various types such as photovoltaics, concentrator photovoltaics, solar heating, (CSP) concentrated solar power, artificial photosynthesis, and solar architecture. This collected solar energy is then used to provide light, heat, and different other forms of electricity.
  • Wind Energy: The energy we get from winds is known as wind energy. For this, windmills have been used for hundreds of years to pump out water from the ground. The large tall wind turbines are used that allow winds to generate electricity. The natural airflow on the surface of the earth is used to run the wind turbines. The modern-day wind turbines range from about 600 Kilowatt to 5 Megawatts, for commercial purposes these are rated with an output power of 1.5 to 3 Megawatts. The most preferred locations for these wind turbines to be installed are the areas which are strong and have constant airflows offshore and sites that are at high altitudes. The power generated from wind energy in 2019 met 5% of global electricity consumption.
  • Hydroelectricity: According to statistics, hydroelectricity generated around 16.6% of the global electricity in 2019 and constituted more than 60% of all the renewable electricity. This energy is another alternative source of energy that is generated by the construction of dams and reservoirs on the flowing water, the kinetic energy from the flowing water is used to run the turbines which generate electricity. Tidal power converts the energy of tides and Wave power which captures the energy from the surface of the ocean waves for power generation. These two forms of hydropower also have huge potential in electric power generation
  • Geothermal Energy: It is the energy that is generated from the thermal energy which is stored in the earth. The heat energy is captured from sources such as hot springs and volcanoes and this heat is directly used by industries for heating the water and other purposes.
  • Bio-Energy: This type of energy is derived from biomass which is a type of biological material derived from living organisms and plant-derived materials which are called lignocellulosic biomass. Biomass can be directly used via combustion to produce heat and indirectly it can be used to convert to biofuels. Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy such as transportation fuels like ethanol, biodiesel, and methane gas.

The Evolution of Solar Energy

  • The use of solar energy has steadily grown over the last couple of decades, with more and more people realizing the tremendous value of utilizing solar panels. 
  • In the US, the demand for solar panel installation has grown from 0.34 gigawatts in 2008 to 97.2 in recent times, which is enough to power the equivalent of 18 million average American homes. 
    • The good news is that this increased demand helps to drive down costs. 
  • Since 2000, the cost of solar PV panels has dropped nearly 90%. The US Department of Energy estimates that, by 2030, at least one in seven American homes will have a rooftop solar PV system.

Solar Energy

  • Solar energy is the energy derived from the sun to meet up power demands.
  • The energy that is absorbed by the earth is used for drying clothes, used by plants in the process of photosynthesis, taken in by the ocean where the heat creates wind and heat currents and for heating up homes, etc.

Major applications of solar energy

  • Solar Thermal Power Production: Solar thermal power production means the conversion of solar energy into electricity through thermal energy. In this procedure, solar energy is first utilized to heat up a working fluid, gas, water or any other volatile liquid. This heat energy is then converted into mechanical energy by a turbine. Finally, a conventional generator coupled to a turbine converts this mechanical energy into electrical energy
  • Solar heating systems use solar energy to heat a fluid — either liquid or air — and then transfer the solar heat directly to the interior space or to a storage system for later use. If the solar system cannot provide adequate space heating, an auxiliary or backup system provides the additional heat.
  • Photoelectric Cells: This method converts the sun’s energy into electricity. Photovoltaic cells are the most popular form of converting solar energy into electricity. These cells are silicon-based pieces of materials that absorb the sun’s light. When the sunlight enters the cells, it causes the electrons to move. These electrons move in a certain direction which is known as current. This electricity is in the form of direct current.

Scenario of Solar Energy in India

  • India lying in the tropical belt has an advantage of receiving peak solar radiation for 300 days, amounting 2300-3,000 hours of sunshine equivalent to above 5,000 trillion kWh.
  • Solar power in India is a fast developing industry as part of the renewable energy industry in India. The country’s solar installed capacity was 46.6 GW as of 30 September 2021.
  • India has established nearly 42 solar parks to make land available to the promoters of solar plants.
  • India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s) commitment includes 100 GW of solar power out of 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022.
  • The sector also has immense potential to create new jobs; 1 GW of Solar manufacturing facility generates approximately 4000 direct and indirect jobs.
  • In addition solar deployment, operation and maintenance creates additional recurring jobs in the sector.
  • Advancements are underway for storage, which has the potential to revolutionize this sector globally, till then dependence on fossils can be reduced by gradually increasing the share of
  • India is expected to be 8% of global solar capacity by 2035. With Country’s solar potential of about 748 Gigawatts (GW), India can be a global leader in terms of encashing energy sector advantages.
  • India is facing problems in fulfilling its energy demand. Solar energy can play an important role in providing energy security.
  • Debate of global warming and climate change is compelling the world to move from fossil based energy towards clean and green energy.
  • With its pollution free nature, virtually inexhaustible supply and global distribution, solar energy is a very attractive energy resource.

Significance of Solar energy

  • Environment friendly: Solar energy does not rely on the use of fossil fuels, does not pollute air or water, and does not contribute to global warming, making it the preferable option for many.
  • Reliable Source: Solar energy is highly reliable. And unlike fossil fuels which are expensive to mine and utilize, it doesn’t cost anything to receive sunlight.
  • Cost effective: Making the investment solar energy for home or other space can help save considerably more money over time.
  • Employment opportunities and Economic Growth: According to the most recent National Solar Jobs Census report by The Solar Foundation, solar energy adds jobs 17 times faster than the overall US economy. As of 2019, there were approximately 250,000 solar energy workers nationwide.
  • Promotes Energy Independence:Energy independence means not having to rely on the power grid. Using solar energy, especially when paired with a backup battery system, allows one to not be tied to unreliable power grids when you need energy most.

Government Initiatives promoting solar energy

  • Wider adoption of roof-top solar power generation.
  • Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), which provides a 30 per cent subsidy to most solar powered items such as solar lamps and solar heating systems, has further extended its subsidy scheme to solar-powered cold storages.
  • The Government of India announced a massive renewable power production target of 175,000 MW by 2022 of which 100,000 MW is from solar power.
  • The Government of India is taking a number of steps and initiatives like 10-year tax exemption for solar energy projects.
  • The National Solar Mission aims to promote the development and use of solar energy for power generation.
  • Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that provide an incentive to those who generate green power by providing financial incentives for every unit of power they generate.

Major Initiatives

  • One Sun One World One Grid’ (OSOWOG) initiative was launched by India in partnership with UK at UN climate summit COP-26 (2021).
    • OSOWOG initiative was earlier proposed by India to set up a framework for facilitating global cooperation which aims at building a global ecosystem of interconnected renewable energy resources that can be easily shared. 
  • State Rooftop Solar Attractiveness Index (SARAL)-
    • It is an annual index developed by Ministry of Renewable energy for comparative analysis of states adopted to deploy rooftop solar deployment
    • In latest ranking, Karnataka is at top.
  • International Solar Alliance (ISA) 
    • It is a treaty-based inter-governmental organization. was established following the Paris Declaration in 2015, as an alliance dedicated to the promotion of solar energy
    • It aims to deploy over 1,000 GW of solar generation capacity globally by 2030.

 International Solar Alliance (ISA)

  • ISA is an alliance of 124 countries, initiated by India.
  • Most of the member countries are sunshine countries, lying either partly or completely between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. 
  • This treaty-based intergovernmental organization is the largest grouping of states across the world.
    • This initiative was launched at the India Africa Summit and a meeting was held among them before the conclave of 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015.
  • The Headquarters is in India with its Interim Secretariat being set up in Gurgaon.
  • The ISA aims to develop cost-efficient solar technologies and applications.
  • It aims to deploy over 1,000 GW of solar generation capacity globally by 2030.
  • It is also expected to mobilize $1 trillion for funding solar energy projects by 2030.

How significant is ISA to India?

  • The ISA gives India an opportunity to take global leadership in the fight against climate change.
  • The secretariat of the ISA is to be located in India. It will also host a meeting of the ISA assembly every year.
  • A part of this money will also go towards creating a corpus fund that will generate revenues for the budget of ISA.

Key-challenges in adopting solar energy- 

There are still plenty of challenges that are holding back the adoption of solar.

  • Cost:The biggest challenge delaying the solar revolution is the cost. While solar systems are now not as expensive as they used to be in the past and are easily available, alternative sources of energy are still cheaper than solar energy. 
    • While there have been several initiatives by the government to make solar energy cheaper, the cost is still not competitive with other traditional sources of energy. This is especially true when it comes to power generation initiatives on a large scale.
  • Transmission & Distribution Losses:The Transmission & Distribution (T&D) loss is the amount of electricity which is generated but is not able to reach the consumers. At around 20%, the T&D losses in India are almost two times that of the world average. This is mostly because of theft and technical inefficiencies. 
    • This further makes solar energy more expensive for consumers when compared with alternative conventional energy sources. 
  • Scarcity of Land:India is quickly running out of land, and land scarcity will be one of the biggest problems for our country in the future. As per an Economic Survey, India is expected to be one of the most land-scarce countries in the world by 2050. Increasing population and urbanization are two of the major reasons for this scarcity. 
    • Adoption of solar energy on a large scale would also require a lot of land which is currently unavailable for such applications. 
  • Uneven Supplies:As the Indian government is focused on making solar energy cheaper, most of the solar system manufacturers prefer exporting their products to earn higher profits. For countries like the USA and Europe, India is an affordable country for importing solar supplies. This makes it a win-win situation for the Indian sellers as well as international buyers. 
    • This has made the availability of solar supplies somewhat uneven in the country and is working as a major deterrent in solar adoption. 
  • Storage of Solar Energy:Solar panels can only work in the day, as the electricity is generated from the photons present in sunlight. This means that they cannot be used for generating electricity if sunlight is not available. 
    • While there are now measures to store the solar-generated electricity which can be used when sunlight is not available, such measures are not readily available in India. Moreover, they further increase the cost of producing electricity through solar installations.


There is a need for a wider adoption of solar energy for an energy independent future. Addressing the concerns and promoting home grown manufacturing of solar equipment can a vital step in the direction of becoming a developed India by 2047.

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