India has clearly shown intent towards adopting solar energy to bring electricity to its furthest corners. The country has taken inspiring initiatives, shouldering reformations, facilitating industrial growth, and bringing investment to support the mission to utilize sustainable energy. Also, solar power has come a long way since 1977 when solar panels were priced at $77 per watt peak. Currently, the price for solar panels varies between $0.33-$0.36 cents/per watt peak, indicating more than 99% fall in prices. Moreover, the solar energy industry is growing in demand and in acceptance. Recently, the global solar industry has been adding close to 100 GW of capacity year over year and gaining more than $130 billion investment globally. Therefore, the argument can be made that this is the perfect time for India to move ahead and seize the opportunities (energy reliance, manufacturing industry growth, increased export revenue) that solar brings. As I have said already, while the intent for green energy adoption is present in India, we still have to remember that solar energy only has 8% share in the country’s total installed energy capacity.
Even with the Government’s new plans such as-
- Investing INR 100 lakh crore for infrastructure development
- ‘One Nation, One Power’ grid implementation
- Creating ‘Manufacturing, Repair and Operate’ (MRO) industry
- Making India a PV Cells and module manufacturing hub
- Supporting growth of EV and energy storage industry
It is not enough to prepare India to seize the solar energy demand in and out of the country.
Focus on Innovation is Necessary
Mass adoption of green energy in India is the only way for us to reduce fossil fuel import costs (~$100 billion), facilitate industrial growth, restore climate, and claim export markets. The most important component that can assist in mass adoption of green energy is innovation. Not just giants like China or the U.S. even emerging economies like South Korea, Vietnam are investing huge amounts of money to enhance solar panel technologies through R&D and brewing competition between solar panel manufacturers (Top Runner program) to speed up technological evolution for solar.
China invested $40.4 bn in solar power in 2018. If we are to consider that more than 60% of the world’s solar panels are made in China, it is easy to comprehend that China is critically invested in continuously improving solar energy technology, to arrest global demand.
China’s industrial policy takes credit for such focus on innovation. As a result, China recorded 150,000 renewable energy patents in 2016, 29% of the global total and the world’s top 11 solar panel manufacturers are now based in mainland China.
The U.S. has always been the forerunner in solar technology, considering that the U.S. first discovered the solar cell. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy and Spectrolab invented the most efficient solar cell technology with a light-to-electricity conversion efficiency of 40% in 2007.
Understanding that the estimated value of solar power is projected to reach $422 bn by 2022, developing countries like Kenya invested $1.3 bn in renewable energy technologies a few years ago.
I believe that this clearly portrays how focusing on solar manufacturing, improving infrastructure, mandating best in class product use, and enforcement of quality guidelines in the solar energy industry can lead to innovation, which is important for faster adoption of solar.
Innovation in Technology
The major part of solar innovation has to be technological. Fortunately, solar power technology is much simplified than that of fossil fuel technology. Considering the rising population (7.6 bn currently), it is easy to comprehend that innovation is necessary to reduce space requirements, increase efficiency and reliability to make solar a mainstream energy source.
For that to happen Government of India needs to focus towards cross-country solar technological exchange (ISA is a decisive move by India in this regard), as agreement of technological collaboration will lead to rapid solar energy growth. Investing in technological development is also important, as it will build a better infrastructure for renewable energy development.
Besides, technology is not the only area where we need innovation to support solar. India must focus on establishing better financial support and solutions in the solar financing sector. The global private sector has shown interest to invest in solar R&D in India. However, flexible and innovative financial strategies are needed to enhance investor interest and allow foreign financial help commitments to turn into reality. Strategies like- providing tax deductions on R&D spend by solar power companies will surely encourage more investment in solar technology development.
Focusing on Quality
Focusing on quality is important to assure reliability and energy security from solar, which are the only way to increase green energy adoption in India.
Indian project developers rely on “self-defined” quality criteria to import more than 90% of solar modules for the domestic industry. Since modules contribute to more than 55% of the CAPEX required to build the solar power plant, the risk associated with poor module quality is therefore significant. Especially so, as the outflow in forex due to module import is several billion dollars every year.
The Government of India has recognised the risk and introduced the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certification to ensure the quality of solar module used for projects in India. While it is an honest attempt to mitigate risks associated with poor quality, there are several reasons why these particular objectives are currently not being met.
What India needs immediately is a strong Government effort to drive quality in a more holistic manner rather than blindly follow the BIS certification route. Development of new standards for module testing for India-specific climatic condition is the need of the hour. Close monitoring of quality control processes on the shop floor in the Indian domestic manufacturer site is an assured way to confirm 100% quality assurance. Specific quality plans for mass manufacturing needs to be followed and deployed on shop floors in order to make this happen. Finally, a sure way to support domestic solar power manufacturing industry is to develop a robust and sustainable domestic supply chain, which will provide quality materials for manufacturing modules at competitive rates.
Therefore, as it appears through our discussion, innovation and quality focus is of great importance for India to finally accept solar energy as the reliable mainstream energy source we want it to be. The quicker the green energy shift has taken effect, the better it would be for India and the world. Moreover, the only way to make it happen is through investment, policy support, and taking immediate action to improve solar quality and encourage innovation.