India has a rapidly growing economy sustained by its increasing population. However, this nation of 1.3 billion people is faced with a challenging problem in providing electricity to all of the citizens, who mostly live in rural areas. Actually, in 2018 already 95 percent of the Indian population had access to electricity following an incredible development in this sector. According to World Bank data, only 48 percent of the population had access to electricity in 1994. This remarkable success is achieved with the help of the electricity generated in coal plants. Now the time has come for India to transform its electricity sector and prioritize solar energy.
BBC reports that in 2019, 72 percent of India's electricity was generated in coal plants. This alarming figure must change if India wishes to become a green economy and limit greenhouse gas emissions. The best option to provide a reliable source of electricity for millions of Indian households and limit the negative impact on the environment seems to be building many solar panels to generate clean energy.
India is currently doing just that. The Indian government is transforming the country's electricity sector in an unprecedented manner. As noted in IEA "India Energy Outlook 2021", India has the ambitious goal of generating 31.4 percent of electricity consumption in 2040 by solar panels. Bearing in mind that solar energy contributed only 4 percent of the total electricity production in 2019, such a goal is highly ambitious. Nonetheless, it is not impossible amid the tremendous efforts of the Indian government.
Invest India notes that India's solar power capacity grew eleven-fold from 2014 to 2019 and reached 28 GW. This success could only be realized thanks to the massive projects of the Indian government. A new solar project of the government, for instance, is the new contract signed with Adani Green Energy. According to Power Technology, this contract of September 2020 was worth USD 6 billion and is the "world's largest solar award." Following this massive contract, Adani Green Energy will construct solar power plants with a capacity of 8 GW until 2025. Many similar projects are also under construction to realize India's ambitious goals in transforming the energy sector and boosting solar power capacity.
Besides these major projects, new techniques are also being used to increase the solar power's share in Indian electricity generation. Although India is geographically large (about nine times Germany's size), the density is also quite high due to the immense population. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to find enough places to install solar panels. A very creative solution is being applied to solve this problem of limited space. In eight Indian states, "solar canals" are used to both generate electricity and make use of idle space. Solar canals are solar power panels installed above the canals, which carry water to residential areas or for agricultural use. BBC mentions another benefit of these solar canals is the prevention of evaporation of water in these canals. Water, a vital commodity for Indians, normally evaporates quite fast because of the high temperatures. However, when a solar panel covers the canals from above, the loss of water to evaporation is prevented.
Another important benefit of replacing coal plants with solar panels is that when solar panels generate electricity, it is much easier to carry the energy to households with local grids. The transmission of electricity can sometimes be problematic, especially in developing countries. The costs of building and operating giant national grids may require immense financial resources. India is already among the world's ten largest economies. However, it still must set aside a significant portion of its budget to financially support the poorest part of the population, which are in dire need. Hence, if money is saved using local grids rather than a huge national grid, the Indians will benefit immediately. Unlike coal plants, solar panels require less investment, and they can be installed everywhere. The solar panels can also be placed very close to residential areas (even at the top of the buildings), thus reducing the needed grid length even further. Therefore, as the number of solar panels increases, more local grids can be utilized, and that way, significant cost reductions can be achieved.
In summary, the amount of electricity generated by solar power in India is certainly set to rise. This change in the outlook of the Indian electricity market will yield both economic and environmental benefits. However, the current coal-intense structure of the market is already very damaging for the environment. The Indian government shall act swiftly and prevent these negative environmental effects by installing solar panels at an even faster pace.