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Published on August 20th, 2015 | by Tobias Engelmeier

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Can Solar In India Change The World?

August 20th, 2015 by  



solar-power-270x198The Indian solar story is much bigger than the story of one country and one technology. It is one of those game-changing developments that will have an impact on many aspects of our lives, around the globe.

It is the opportunity of a lifetime for India, for the global energy industry, and for the climate. Here is why:

A Lifetime Opportunity for Indians

India is where China was 30 years ago: It needs to industrialise, and for that, it needs to massively expand its energy infrastructure. The difference is: its choices are much better and clearer.

A look at China shows the downsides of a coal-heavy strategy: severe pollution and enormous water-usage. At the same time, the costs of wind and solar have fallen to about 10% of what they were in 1990.

India today has an option China never had: to build its future energy infrastructure around solar (and other renewables, storage, and smart grids), rather than coal.

This will be a choice that costs less, is much cleaner, saves water, provides a maximum of energy security, and allows India to move to the forefront of key future technologies. Solar has enough potential to satisfy vastly increased power demand in India.

It is also the opportunity of a lifetime for Indians that have no access to power (mostly in the villages) or face highly unreliable power (in many cities and industrial hubs). Solar now puts the power into the hands of consumers. It is quick and easy to install, making distributed power generation possible. In the future, if the government won’t fix it, consumers will do it themselves.

A Lifetime Opportunity for Energy Companies

India is a huge market, perhaps the largest future energy opportunity anywhere. As compared to China, it is also a much more open market. Also, solar is typically a more transparent (less corrupt, less political), more competitive, less complex, and more environmentally friendly market than thermal power.

The promise of the Indian solar market attracts an entirely new crowd of international investors, ranging from American and European utilities to the Japanese entrepreneur Masayoshi Son and his Softbank, to leading private equity investors and the Russian oil major Rosneft — often shifting away from other energy businesses (oil, coal, nuclear). They are making investment bets as large as any in the global energy market and India has attracted the biggest share of international investments this year.

A Lifetime Opportunity for the Global Climate

Last but not least, solar in India is one of the biggest single measures to save the global climate. If India goes down China’s path of coal, it will be very near impossible to keep the 2° Celsius target.

On the other hand, if India can build a modern energy infrastructure around solar, it will be of enormous benefit to everyone. And think of the effect this would have on development conversations everywhere: it can show the way for many other countries in a similar stage of development in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East — altogether half the world’s population.





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About the Author

is working towards a low carbon world. He believes that this is a great opportunity rather than a sacrifice and that it will be driven by business and economic fundamentals rather than by political directive. Developing countries, who can still make a choice about their future energy infrastructure, are in a particularly good position to get the most out of the renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions available. The good news is: A global energy transition is inevitable. The bad news is: current market designs in most countries are not conducive enough and could delay this inevitable transition for just too long to save our climate. So that is what we need to work on: better market designs. (Disclaimer: views in motion...) Companies I am involved with: TFE Consulting (www.tfeconsulting.com) www.bridgetoindia.com (sustainability solutions for India), www.indiagoessolar.com (helping consumer go solar in India), www.gridhub.com (the business platform for the global renewables industry).



  • Deven Dalal

    It is high time that India makes the solar panels as part of Make in India project. Why are we hell bent on importing panels as India has a big enough glass industry and fine sand in the Thar desert. Surely , Indian scientists can do that and there will be no delay as political parties fight more on the comparision of cuts received from abroad.

    • SacchaDesi

      Here I can agree wholeheartedly

  • Bob_Wallace

    Folks, let’s stick to clean (and dirty) energy issues.

    Take the historical damning to another site.

  • ThermalEd

    Yes it can. Best market in the world for solar.

  • LafayetteCoboll

    India needs to depopulate.

    • Jacob

      Tall buildings are there in Taiwan and South Korea.

      Although Japan is strangely missing tall buildings.

      Thank lord that London is getting a 50 storey residential building and has the 300m tall shard.

      The tallest building in Delhi is only 100m tall. They really need to deregulate height limits!

      • Brent Jatko

        “Although Japan is strangely missing tall buildings.”

        Likely because of frequent earthquakes.

        • Jacob

          Taiwan has earthquakes and they built the tall Taipei 101 building.

          • Brent Jatko

            …with a huge dynamic balancing system.

    • Ronald Brakels

      I’ve already asked India to depopulate the United States, but they refused.

      • LafayetteCoboll

        I’ve asked them to over-populate Australia, and they’ve accepted.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Lafayette, considerably more than half of the United States population increase is currently from US births. (Two thirds? More?) A current fertility rate below the replacement rate doesn’t mean current births are below deaths. It’s kind of tricky.

          And I see the US immigration rate is really low at about half Australia’s. Our treasurer would have a fit if we could only scrape together the as many immigrants per capita as the US lets in.

          • LafayetteCoboll

            There is a delay until a zero population growth rate kicks in, but the US is 39 years in. I mentioned immigration – and its compounding. There are a lot of births that occur by immigrant mothers and their descendants.

            You won’t impress me by claiming Australia is worse off than the US with regard to immigration. Immigration makes real estate developers/owners and construction companies rich. I don’t see it making countries richer. I think there is a good reason that almost all the countries in the world aren’t saying “Let’s get a lot richer by having a lot of immigrants”.

            Millions in India and China and elsewhere are ready to come to Australia. I hope that you and your treasurer can get what you wish for.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Thank you. I wish for a pony. But our Treasurer wishes our wind turbines would turn into piles of coal, so maybe I should instead wish that our Treasurer doesn’t get what he wishes for.

          • Bharati_shahida

            Emigration out of India started only after colonization devastated it.

          • LafayetteCoboll

            How did colonization by a wealthier country made India poorer?

          • gsc_999

            I don’t think you are a Yankee, I think you are a Paki. Lol!

        • Kevin McKinney

          Indian fertility rate was at a relatively modest 2.3 in 2013, and the birth rate has been falling for four decades.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_India

          It’s expected that the main locus of population growth over the coming decades will be Africa, where there are areas of very high birthrates:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Africa

          As in 13%+ growth rate…

          • LafayetteCoboll

            Has the world ever really focused on population growth? It seems like the major religions all fight any effort to do so.

            The one place where they did – China – is now deciding (despite never having had a negative population growth) – that a “two-child” policy is better in cases where one of the parents in an only child.

          • Bharati_shahida

            Population control, abortion, opting only for healthy kids are all acceptable to Hindus. India’s Catholics too accept birth control. Yes, some mad politicians/ clergy say breed more but certainly no one except the media pays any attention to them.

          • Bob_Wallace

            When might we see signs of fertility rates start to drop in India?

            Look at the graph I posted a few comments up. There’s no tapering off seen in the four youngest age ranges.

            That is a lot of people who are going to enter their breeding years over the next couple of decades. If they don’t actively cut their family size then India’s population will continue to rise.

          • Bharati_shahida

            The southern states have all achieved ZPG. There are 4 northern states which breed (recklessly IMHO) and create most problems in India ….

          • Bob_Wallace

            Doesn’t answer my question.

          • Kevin McKinney

            China will be experiencing negative growth fairly soon, if I recall projections correctly.

          • LafayetteCoboll

            The graph in Wikipedia of their population growth doesn’t even show them leveling off yet – still heading up.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The World Bank database shows China at a 0.5% population growth rate per year.

            The same database shows India having a 1.3% population growth rate in 2010 and 2011 then dropping to 1.2% for 2012, 2013, and 2014.

            http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW

            That’s heading up at a slower rate.

            The United Nations predicts that China’s fertility rate will be 1.62 for 2015 through 2020.

            And that India will have a fertility rate of 2.34 for the same time period.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependent_territories_by_fertility_rate

            The replacement fertility rate for developed countries is 2.1 and as high as 2.7 for countries with high mortality rates.

            That says that most of China’s population increase is likely due to longer lifespans. As the big bulge of aging Chinese (below 2) moves through population rates should start moving downward.

            India has a much younger population (below 1) and may have more difficulty getting its population growth heading downward.

          • LafayetteCoboll

            China hasn’t leveled off. Once they level off we can talk about them going down. At the moment they are taking steps to increase births.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let me separate out the critical data for you.

            1) The United Nations predicts that China’s fertility rate will be 1.62 for 2015 through 2020

            2) The replacement fertility rate for developed countries is 2.1 and as high as 2.7 for countries with high mortality rates.

            3) 1.62 < 2.1.

          • LafayetteCoboll

            Is that prediction based on “one-child” or the new policies that are overturning part of “one-child”?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Following the relaxation of the one child policy only one million couple applied for permission to have a second child. That will not be enough to raise fertility rates to 2.0.

          • Kevin McKinney

            Correct. However, they are reaching the end of the population ‘bulge’. That is, an increasing proportion of their population is aging out of their child-bearing years. See the graph Bob posted below.

            And, as I say, watch out for Africa. That continent holds the real population growth hot spots these days, as mortality has fallen but fertility hasn’t, or at least not uniformly. Check, for instance Nigeria’s fertility rate of 5.25:

            http://www.indexmundi.com/nigeria/total_fertility_rate.html

    • gsc_999

      Another patronizing commentator with no knowledge of Western industrial history and ignorantly preaching to Indians. Save your unsolicited advise. Indians know whats good for them and whats good for environment, we don’t need education, especially from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

      • LafayetteCoboll

        Well if you think you have done a good job controlling your population and are doing a good job controlling your population, then it’s true, there is no place for advice on the matter.

        • gsc_999

          As an American, I would point to the these facts, it would be great to see some facts not just your opinion, which seems uninformed and that is irritating. I mean, that becomes an argument not a debate:
          1) Slavery, most Western industrial growth came on the backs of slaves.
          2) Free/cheap raw material from colonies: Cotton came only from India untill Plantations were started by British in out countries. They banned local textile production so Mills in Manchester could export to India.
          3) Rail road in America is nothing but Chinese forced labor. Thousands of poor Chinese are buried under thousands of mile of American rail road.
          4) Pollution: The cumulative pollution pushed out into the atmosphere by Western countries mostly America is still greater than China and rest of teh developing world.
          5) White population explosion: White population has exploded in last century. Records are clear, while that was happening million of natives perished examples in India, Africa, North America are clear.
          6) Many of the “inventions” claimed by West are actually plagiarized, Noodles, paper, gun powder, Shampoos are examples, its a long list.

          • Bharati_shahida

            You haven’t mentioned sale of arms/ bio warfare/drugs/ dangerous farm products/ creating wars/ modern colonization (where a small Arab elite is pampered), genocide, removing democratically elected leaders as deliberate national policies.

            Re India’s population, it must go down. Anyone who is unable or unwilling to care for a child for approximately 20 years should not have one.

            For anyone interested~: Indians invented numbers, algebra, vaccination, knew the earth went round the sun and English has over 3000 words from Sanskrit, etc.

            AFAIK, the Industrial Revolution was based on wealth and knowledge from the colonies, especially India and China.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, we realize that Indians have tender fee-fees. The citizens of most countries don’t like when outsiders criticize their country. (As an American I’m very aware of how it feels.)

            Now, second request. No, insistence.

            Back on topic. Take the political/historical stuff to another site.

          • Bharati_shahida

            FWIW, I admire the US for things too many to mention but point taken.

          • LafayetteCoboll

            How does talking about America make a case for India not being over-populated?

            The majority of American railroads were built by non-Chinese. They could have been built in their entirely by non-Chinese. Employers always look for a way to employ someone for less from outside the country at the expense of American workers. We see that today with the rich of Silicon Valley always calling for the US government to let them hire more foreign labor.

          • gsc_999

            Just because someone can write doesn’t mean they posses an IQ level that can grasp the issues at hand. If you are flummoxed by why talking about America would not address Indian population, don’t burden your fragile brain with such deep issues. Lets just stay on topic, which is Solar power.

          • LafayetteCoboll

            We can agree that I am unable to understand you.

          • gsc_999

            That’s a good start. Now back up a few steps and read the title of the story. No, its not Indian population, its Solar in India. Now go to your corner and do what you do.

      • Sylar

        Maybe something hit your soft spots, but to say that Indians know everything and don’t need education is a negative approach. This is not to say that everything in the west is awesome. But you get my point.

        • gsc_999

          You misunderstand, the response is not emotional rather based on economics, demographics and real data while what you say is just popular myth and misconception.Having said that, I turn to Google if I want to know anyting, if Google turns to an Indian born in India, same happens for Microsoft that shows that smart Board room members already know this knowledge will percolate down slowly while popular misconception help by common people will take time to change but that’s understandable.’

          • LafayetteCoboll

            Google can hire an Indian but that address 1.275 billion people living in India.

          • gsc_999

            No the issue is your inability to grasp simple arguments. I question your IQ.

  • JamesWimberley

    “India] needs to industrialise..” To some extent, yes. Indians want the fridges, cars and air-conditioners of households in rich countries. But India will never need to have a very high proportion of the workforce in manufacturing. China’s manufacturing workforce has plateaued at 110m (link): a lot of workers, but only 10% of the population. I can’t find a comparable share for the UK in 1880, but it must have been higher. India will follow the same trajectory, but will peak its manufacturing at an even lower share of the population, and will transition (or revert) to a service economy even more quickly. You can build dams with wheelbarrows, but solar cells cannot be made at all in thousands of little craft workshops. Smartphones and fibre-optical cables don’t need much in the way of materials. I could go on.

    • Jacob

      What the hell?

      China has massive factories to make clothes, electronic gadgets, etc.

      Massive textile factories in India were not allowed until recently because the “old witch” Indira did not know about economies of scale

      • JamesWimberley

        The enormous Gigafactory will employ at most 6,500 workers.

        • Jacob

          I read that in China they use human labour to assemble mobile phone batteries while in Japan they get robots to do that.

          The Toyota factory near Bangalore uses human labour to push the cars along the production line while in a rich nation they would use electricity to push the cars along the production line.

    • sukumar

      Indian case is strange it missed the manufacturing midway and straightway went to a service economy with its positives and negatives. the much needed correction is now being planned with manufacturing which incidentally will come by diverting agriculture surplus.

  • Dinesh Dutta

    I do no agree with the author on “India is where China was 30 years ago”. It should be “India is where China was 15 years ago”. Check the facts.

    • Ronald Brakels

      In terms of nominal GDP per capita India is where China was 11 years ago.

      Actually, my figures don’t include the recent Chinese devaluation. So maybe it’s 10 now?

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    • gsc_999

      I agree. Its amusing to see an author make such a categorical comment w/o presenting any supporting evidence. Having said that, India is mostly service sector economy, scaling is relatively easier e.g. marginal costs are lower compared to traditional manufacturing. Personally, I believe that 2015 will be the inflection point, from now on India will start to power up and the path it charts will be different than what the world has seen up to now.

  • Jacob

    China had the option to import steel to cut local pollution.

    China imports iron ore and coking coal to make steel locally.

    Even today, if China wants to cut pollution they can move the steel mills to Australia and get steel from AUS.

    • Why, so Australia can run it’s coal plants and use it’s local coal instead of China, that makes no sense. The current government in Australia is pro-pollution, and the government in China is rapidly deploying renewables and cutting pollution at a rate far above many countries. Yes, China chose a sub-optimal path 20 years ago, but they are altering course, which is more than Australia can claim.

      • Jacob

        So that China becomes less polluted.

        And save on shipping costs.

        Steel mills can be located offshore. Power stations, not so much.

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