Green

India turns to subsidies, shines with ambitious solar plan

Expanding on its incentives package for wind power, India is launching a major solar energy deployment campaign. With 9,000 megawatts of solar already up and running, the country has set a goal to have 20,000 megawatts of capacity online by 2022 — enough power to run about 20 million U.S. households. How does India plan to do it? Major subsidies.

The populous nation was roundly criticized for its stubborn stance on climate change during the United Nations talks in Copenhagen. But it’s actually becoming one of the most proactive developing countries in the world when it comes to clean energy. Renewables already account for 10 percent of power generation there. To put this in context, he U.S. generated 11.1 percent of its power from renewable during the first half of 2009, and its economy is much bigger.

India’s plan to increase solar generation was first announced in July last year, and is still estimated to cost $19 billion. The government says it is willing to provide 90 percent of the support needed to make a number of solar plants operational. It has also set down policies requiring solar panels in all government buildings. It’s obviously serious about weaning itself off of fossil fuels, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions — further evidenced by its pledge to spend $200 billion on building a cleaner, more efficient Smart Grid by 2015.

So what does bringing solar power to 80,000 citizens living off a major power grid look like? Well, it involved 20 million square-meters of photovoltaic panels. That’s about 4,000 soccer fields, or 7.5 square miles covered in equipment. As it’s been plotted out, the country’s solar campaign would take about 12 years.

It gets more ambitious than simply building panels too. It will also require utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from solar. This is the same goal that California hopes to accomplish by 2020 taking both wind and solar into account. To make this happen, India will turn several cities into hubs for renewable power technology that will serve as centers of thought leadership and laboratories for new ideas.

Promising to fund 90 percent of construction costs in diesel-dependent states and 30 percent in others, India is showing strong resolve to change its energy mix. It has the influence to become a strong regional leader in renewable power. It could even teach the U.S. a thing or two if subsidies do for solar there what they have done for Spain and Germany, catapulting them out ahead of the game as America runs to catch up.

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