Can Solar Power Compete With Coal? In India, It’s Gaining Ground
Posted on February 18th, 2020

Courtesy APK Metro News

In a dusty northwest India desert dotted with cows and the occasional camel, a solar-power plant is producing a few of the world’s cheapest power.

In-built 2018 by India’s Acme Photo voltaic Holdings Ltd., it may possibly generate 200 megawatts of electrical energy, sufficient to energy all of the properties in a middle-size U.S. city. Acme sells the electrical energy to distributors for two.44 rupees (3.four cents) a kilowatt-hour, a document low for solar energy in India, a rustic that knowledge trackers say has the world’s most cost-effective photo voltaic power.

Extra outstanding, the ability prices much less to generate in India than the most affordable competing fossil gas—coal—even with subsidies eliminated and the price of development and financing figured in, in response to the Indian authorities and business trackers.

Value-conscious Indian utilities are wanting to snap up that energy. We’re notorious for low value,” says Sandeep Kashyap, Acme’s president.

Solar energy has entered a brand new world period. The business was lengthy depending on subsidies and regulatory promotions. Now, technological innovation and falling solar-panel costs have made solar energy cheap sufficient to compete by itself with different gas sources in some areas, in the case of newly constructed vegetation. That would turbocharge progress of renewables within the world power business, particularly in fast-growing Asian markets the place a lot of the world’s power infrastructure growth will happen.

Governments in lots of photo voltaic markets—together with China, the largest—are phasing out or decreasing helps. Solar-plant development is going mainstream, with finance provided by global investors like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Singaporean sovereign-wealth fund GIC and big Western pension and private-equity funds.

To date, the renewable-energy push hasn’t halted the expansion of world power emissions. However the success of nations like India in feeding their rising energy calls for with clear power will nonetheless be key to blunting the expansion of world challenges like air pollution and local weather change.

The value declines in photo voltaic panels and the ability they produce are jolting the business. Up to now decade, photo voltaic has grown from lower than 1% of the world’s electric-power capability to an estimated 9% by the tip of this 12 months, in response to the Worldwide Vitality Company, an intergovernmental group centered on power coverage. By 2040, the IEA expects that to develop to 24%, which might make photo voltaic the most important single power supply.

India is on the forefront of the pattern, with a value of constructing photo voltaic capability that has dropped 84% in eight years, in response to the Worldwide Renewable Vitality Company, an intergovernmental group centered on renewable power. Different international locations are shut behind, with prices falling quick in Australia and China.

A solar-panel production line in China. PHOTO: CHINA STRINGER NETWORK/REUTERS
A solar-panel manufacturing line in China. PHOTO: CHINA STRINGER NETWORK/REUTERS

India has elevated the quantity of solar energy it has put in 10-fold previously 5 years, to 32 gigawatts, and the federal government is hoping to triple that within the subsequent few years—one of many quickest paces of progress anyplace. India’s prime minister final 12 months mentioned he needs 450 gigawatts of renewable power together with photo voltaic put in by 2030.

If India manages that, which many analysts say is an actual stretch, it could account for practically all the extra electrical capability the nation’s Central Electrical energy Authority has projected it could add by then, and greater than the nation’s complete from all energy sources now. India has pledged as a local weather purpose that 40% of its electrical capability will come from non-fossil fuels by 2030; the newest renewable targets would seemingly put that proportion at over half.

Cheaper than coal

In 2018, India’s levelized” value of solar-power era—an evaluation eradicating the influence of direct subsidies and figuring within the prices of development and financing for a brand new plant—fell to 14% beneath that of coal, the primary time anyplace on this planet that producing photo voltaic was cheaper than coal on that foundation, in response to worldwide power consulting agency Wooden Mackenzie.

India’s nationwide power plan doesn’t anticipate development of recent coal energy vegetation for at the least a number of years. Even state-controlled Coal India, one of many world’s largest coal-producing corporations, in November mentioned it deliberate a pilot photo voltaic undertaking because it navigated a future with much less coal.

Throughout Asia, a area anticipated to account for two-thirds of the world’s new energy demand in the course of the subsequent 20 years, worth declines will make wind and photo voltaic mixed 17% cheaper than coal by 2030 on a levelized foundation, says Wooden Mackenzie. In India, photo voltaic era shall be nearly 50% cheaper, it initiatives.

This can be a revolution in energy era prices,” says Wooden Mackenzie analyst Alex Whitmore. What it means is there shall be much more photo voltaic investment in India, and in international locations like India.”

Photo voltaic’s massive downside: It generates energy solely when the solar shines. Wind energy, equally, works solely with wind. So displacing fossil fuels might require cheaper methods to retailer power. And the more renewables in the power-transmission grid, the more the grid will need to be rebuilt to accommodate these particular traits.

That inefficiency is why the IEA forecasts the quantity of energy photo voltaic generates to rise to solely 11% of the world’s complete by 2040, round half that of coal or pure gasoline.

In India, which has a few of the world’s finest circumstances for producing solar energy, the mismatch is pronounced as a result of demand for electrical energy swells after individuals go house and change on air conditioners within the night, when photo voltaic vegetation aren’t working.

In the meantime, international locations like India have made massive investments in coal-fired plants they can’t afford to simply scrap. Coal nonetheless offers two-thirds of India’s energy. Coal shipments additionally underpin income on the nation’s largest employer, the railways.

As Indian photo voltaic builders push costs down, the skinny margins for a lot of are being pummeled by challenges starting from an financial slowdown and tighter home financing circumstances to energy distributors that aren’t paying payments and squatters refusing to maneuver off land slated for growth.

In the course of the previous two years, the tempo of photo voltaic growth in India slowed. Though installations are anticipated to select again up this 12 months, many analysts and business leaders now anticipate India gained’t hit its aggressive photo voltaic targets.

‘Low-hanging fruit’

Challenges will seemingly multiply when solar energy in India’s grid rises from the present 9% to round 20% or 30%—a stage at which it could begin changing typical energy vegetation, say consultants like Rahul Tongia, a fellow on the India arm of assume tank Brookings Establishment.

What occurs after that time when the low-hanging fruit is finished?” says Mr. Tongia.

India’s photo voltaic push began in 2010, when its authorities outlined plans for a modest increase in capability in the course of the subsequent decade. Photo voltaic was an excellent match for India’s rising power wants. Vegetation are straightforward to construct—primarily photo voltaic panels lined up in racks—and labor is cheap. India has massive stretches of sparsely populated land and intense solar, good for huge spreads cranking out energy.

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi quintupled the nation’s photo voltaic goal, aiming to put in 100 gigawatts of capability by 2022—roughly half of the world’s 2015 complete. On the time, India had lower than Three gigawatts of solar energy put in and the plan appeared loopy.

It was a leap of religion,” says Anand Kumar, a prime official in India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Vitality. We received very fortunate that the value of photo voltaic panels fell.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, here at a solar plant in 2015, quintupled the country’s solar target. PHOTO: IMAGO/ZUMA PRESS
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right here at a photo voltaic plant in 2015, quintupled the nation’s photo voltaic goal. PHOTO: IMAGO/ZUMA PRESS

China had been cranking out photo voltaic panels in large numbers in a government-subsidized effort to dominate the business globally. Panel costs, which may account for round half the price of a photo voltaic plant in India, plummeted. Globally, solar-panel costs fell greater than 90% in the course of the previous decade, in response to the Worldwide Renewable Vitality Company.

The Indian authorities’s system of auctioning out photo voltaic initiatives to builders that provided the most affordable electrical energy lowered costs there additional. Aggressive entrepreneurs elbowed in, figuring the federal government’s eagerness to spice up photo voltaic capability coupled with ever-cheaper panels provided a revenue alternative.

Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., whose chief executive, Masayoshi Son, is a solar proponent, set up an energy unit in Delhi across the identical time Mr. Modi introduced his formidable targets. SoftBank snagged its first solar undertaking in half a 12 months. Acme switched its focus to photo voltaic from telecom tools, figuring the business was poised to repeat telecom’s speedy progress. ReNew Energy Ltd., based in 2011, enlisted a roster of blue-chip traders together with Goldman, the Canada Pension Plan {Investment} Board and the Abu Dhabi {Investment} Authority.

As the federal government tendered lots of of megawatts of photo voltaic capability, the value at which photo voltaic builders had been providing to promote their electrical energy roughly halved between 2015 and this 12 months, in response to Bridge to India, a knowledge tracker.

Builders pushed to squeeze all of the revenue they may from initiatives. Within the Bhadla photo voltaic park, the place the Acme plant producing a budget electrical energy is situated, one downside is mud. The plant has 927,180 panels stretched over desert the place sandstorms are widespread and temperatures can swing from over 120 levels Fahrenheit in summer season to almost freezing in winter. If panels aren’t cleaned frequently, mud collects and electrical energy manufacturing declines.

Acme had used sprinklers on tractors pushed by contractors to clean down the panels, a way letting them clear all panels 3 times a month. Final 12 months, it rolled out robots that brush the panels down, doubling the month-to-month cleansing and boosting the utmost quantity of power the plant might produce.


As photo voltaic costs sank, some initiatives had been delayed by an absence of transmission traces to ship the electrical energy. Others fell behind due to tussles between villagers, builders and native governments over land—issues dogging development in other countries as well.

Acme and different builders have been hamstrung by a delay in tax and tariff refunds they’d counted on. Lots of fairness received caught, which was deliberate for brand new initiatives,” says Mr. Kashyap, Acme’s president.

ReNew and different corporations have been hit by fee delays from India’s struggling energy distributors, primarily state-owned corporations that purchase electrical energy from producers and promote it to households. India’s Central Electrical energy Authority estimated that as of Nov. 30, renewable-energy corporations had been owed some $1.Three billion in overdue payments.

At anyone time, distributors in roughly 1 / 4 of the eight or 9 states that ReNew Energy operates in are behind on funds, says CEO Sumant Sinha. Though ReNew and different builders issue such fee delays into electrical energy costs they provide when bidding for initiatives, a miscalculation might hit income. Everybody sees delays in funds,” he says.

Some Indian state businesses, hoping photo voltaic costs fall decrease, have canceled photo voltaic auctions after they thought builders had been providing to promote energy at too excessive a worth.

solar-power plant in 2016
solar-power plant in 2016

Final 12 months, the southern state of Andra Pradesh —which has one of many highest ranges of renewable-energy consumption in addition to one of many largest unpaid payments—threatened to cancel outdated photo voltaic contracts and renegotiate them at decrease costs, sending the business into an uproar.

The Andra Pradesh authorities says paying these larger costs has left its electrical energy distributors in monetary misery, and that it’s attempting to persuade” renewable-energy mills to produce energy at a mutually helpful fee.”

By early 2019, many builders had been beginning to go on photo voltaic auctions, threatening the nation’s aggressive growth timetable. Many builders and analysts now say India is prone to fall behind in reaching its renewable-energy targets.

India is working to take away roadblocks, constructing extra transmission traces and tweaking guidelines governing public sale, growth deadlines and photo voltaic parks to make it simpler to construct vegetation. It’s holding auctions for initiatives bundling photo voltaic with wind energy and electricity-storage capacity to assist even out photo voltaic era’s peaks and troughs. ReNew lately gained one such contract.

And India is contemplating initiatives that bundle current coal vegetation with renewable-energy sources, to assist easy the transition from fossil fuels, says Mr. Kumar, the renewable-energy official.

Specialists like ReNew’s Mr. Sinha say it should seemingly be a number of years earlier than India builds a lot photo voltaic capability that the know-how’s daytime energy surges and nighttime plunges might have an effect on the nation’s total electrical energy provide. By that point, says Mr. Sinha, different new applied sciences equivalent to batteries and techniques for delivery electrical energy could also be obtainable to easy out irregularities.

India has already proven it may possibly develop its photo voltaic capability far quicker than anybody would have anticipated, he says: That isn’t an achievement to be scoffed at.”

One Response to “Can Solar Power Compete With Coal? In India, It’s Gaining Ground”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Instead of our governments spending tax payers money useless commission laden projects use that money to buy solar panels to every house holder so that these panels could generate electricity to the national grid.Exessive generated power during the day could pump water to a reservoir that would generated electricity at night.
    This electricity could charge the electric vehicles. Usual corruption within people and departments will frustrate the efforts.

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