“Solar: One Very Small Step Forward”

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India’s largest photovoltaic solar project (to date) started generating electricity late last month, according to press reports. Located in western Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district, it has a capacity of only 40 MW. If this is really the country’s biggest solar plant, only underscores the negligible role solar plays in India’s power scenario.

The Rs 700 crore (about $400 million) Reliance Power project is going to supply electricity to Reliance Infrastructure, and is part of the company’s plant to invest Rs 6,000 (about $1.2 billion) in solar in Rajasthan, according to this Economic Times article. The company plans to set up 300 MW of solar capacity in Rajasthan by 2015.

The chief minister was at the launch of the plant to thank Reliance’s Anil Ambani for setting it up, and say, “We are trying to set up a solar energy park here and have created an atmosphere conducive to shoulder this commitment,” according to this Times of India article. This is all good news, but Rajasthan — and India — have a long way to go before solar becomes a significant contributor to its energy needs.

Although nearly a third of India’s installed electricity generating capacity is renewable — mostly large hydro stations — less than half of one percent of the country’s installed capacity is solar. And the actual generation from that tiny solar fleet is an even smaller share of the national percentage, as it is intermittent, while the country main fuel — coal — is much more consistent.

(Well, coal plants are more consistent when they can get fuel, that is. The Statesman today had an article saying that: “Insufficient coal supply forced the Mejia Thermal Power Station, the largest power utility in Eastern India, to suspend generation of two 210 MW units,” the article said).

Solar could, of course, make a larger contribution. And that’s something Manmohan Singh’s government is working on.

The Singh government in Delhi launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission on 11th January 2010, with the goal of deploying 20,000 MW of grid-connected solar power by 2022 and reducing the cost of solar power generation. More on the Mission here.

So far, total installed grid-connected solar power was 503.9 MW, according to this statement from the MNRE.

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