Solar energy in India: Challenges, opportunities and the way forward
Solar energy is the most abundantly available and one of the cleanest energy resources that humankind has known for a long time. With the benefits of solar energy and the advantages that it brings in, many countries around the world today are on the path of attaining success with energy generation using solar systems.
According to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited (IREDA), India is endowed with abundant solar energy, which is capable of producing 5,000 trillion kilowatts of clean energy. India gets 300 sunny days a year in most parts of the country and solar insolation of 4-7kWh per Sq. m per day.
This energy, if harnessed efficiently, can substantially reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and also reduce the carbon emissions involved in energy generation. It will also reduce the gap in the demand for energy across the country including in remote areas where energy supply is limited.
In this article, we will understand the current scenario of solar energy usage in India, the challenges and how it is changing the energy sector for the future.
National solar potential
Today India is one of the biggest importers of energy in the world and about 85% of the total energy and fuels needed are imported from several other countries leading to a high expenditure on energy resources amongst all other expenses.
With the scope to harness solar energy, there is a huge potential to meet the demand avoiding the dependency on imports.
With about 300 clear and sunny days in a year, the calculated solar energy incidence on India's land area is about 5 quadrillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year (or 5 EWh/yr). This energy if harnessed for a year will surpass the total fossil fuel energy reserves in India.
Many states in India have already recognized and identified the opportunity that solar energy can offer in addition to being an everlasting source of power. In the near future, solar energy will have a huge role to play in meeting India’s energy demands in multiple sectors like electricity, automobile, manufacturing and commercial.
Theoretically, a small fraction of the total incident solar energy (if captured effectively) can meet the entire country's power requirements.
Technologies and use cases of solar energy in India
Solar energy has already touched millions of lives in India by meeting their cooking, lighting and other energy needs in an environment-friendly manner.
While there has been a visible impact of solar energy in the Indian energy sector in the last few years, the generation of these resources has not even met 10% of the total demand of the country.
Some of the technology that can revolutionize the energy sector are:
- Solar PV Technology - Solar Photovoltaic (PV) cells convert solar light directly to electricity. The setup is directly installed on land or on top of homes where there is direct exposure to the sun and is used to power lighting and other electrical appliances we use on a daily basis.
- Solar Thermal Technology - In this case, solar energy is used as a heat source for heating purposes for direct use and to generate steam for generating electricity through turbines. This is then supplied to residential buildings to be used directly.
- Floating Solar Technology - This type of solar energy generation is similar to Solar PV but instead of land, the panels will be set up on floats resting on a water body. This is very helpful where the population density is high and the land area available is limited.
The application of solar energy is widespread and diverse. Some of them include solar electricity, solar water heating, solar heating, solar ventilation, solar lighting, portable solar, solar transportation, etc.
Challenges involved in solar development
While solar energy can be a boon for the Indian energy sector as an alternative source of power generation, there are still many challenges that we face in today’s time limiting us from scaling up. Some of these challenges include:
- Lack of R&D, modern development facilities and manufacturing infrastructure impact the development of solar panels, equipment and inverters to meet complete demand. This inevitably leads to increase in imports from countries like China, Germany, etc. thereby increasing the cost of the system.
- Solar systems require a substantial amount of investment in the beginning and have longer payback periods. This investment will not only burden the flow of investments in other energy sectors but also increases the debt. This challenge discourages many people and entities from adopting solar energy.
- Lack of awareness amongst the general public is one of the key challenges slowing down the adoption of solar energy. Education on solar energy, especially in the rural areas of the country should be addressed more actively where the benefits, advantages and accessibility perks are taught.
- Some of the administrative issues like ease of land acquisition, government approvals, material supply limits, etc. affect the setup of solar generation plants and thereby lead to delays in development. This can be addressed by setting up dedicated government entities that work towards solar energy implementation.
- The overall setup warranty provided by the implementation partner is also one of the challenges that we face today. Many companies today are providing limited support and warranty for the implementation of solar panels and systems which is raising concerns for many customers.
Solar energy in India - 2022 and beyond
India added a record 10 Gigawatt (GW) of solar energy to its cumulative installed capacity in 2021. This has been the highest 12-month capacity addition, recording nearly a 200% year-on-year growth.
Solar energy in India has been noted as a very significant power source to meet the needs for power generation in the future. Various large projects have been proposed in India in the past few years to meet the energy demand of the country.
A 25-year vision document by the Government has targeted 85% of the power generation from renewable and green sources of energy. This enables India to be one of the key markets for solar energy and also a huge customer base for solar applications.
With the boom and demand in the renewable energy sector and initiatives that the government is taking today to meet the future demand, India will play an important role in the development, research and implementation of solar energy in the near future.
India is at the forefront of solar energy adoption considering the challenges like the limited availability of natural resources needed for power generation, rising demand for power, increasing prices of fuels, distribution difficulties in rural areas, and more.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates in its NEO 2018 report, that India will generate 75% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050.
Today, India has already reached the 5th position in solar power deployment globally, and its usage has increased by more than 11 times in the last five years from 2.6 GW in March 2014 to 30 GW in July 2019.
Solar energy has enormous potential. Adoption of this renewable source of energy is not just a necessity but will become a mandate, especially in a developing, high power-consumption country like India.
How Enphase Energy is driving the change:
We are on a mission to bring solar energy to the next level, where it’s ready to meet the energy demands of the entire globe. As we work towards our vision for a solar-powered planet, we never lose sight of the three commitments that have guided us from the beginning: innovation, quality, and responsibility.
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ReferencesIndian renewable energy development agency limited
Solar Power in India
India’s solar capacity: Milestones and challenges
India targets 85% of energy needs from green sources
New Energy Outlook 2021
Ministry of New and Renewable Energy