India, with its enormous and rapidly growing population, has a voracious appetite for electricity. Until recently, that appetite has been met by building more and more coal fired generating plants. Coal was cheaper than any other power source. So what if the emissions from all those coal plants slowly poisoned the population? India was on a mission to bring its citizens all the conveniences of the modern world and coal was the answer.
But India has recently joined China in rejecting coal as the basis of its prosperity and turning to solar. It’s not entirely because power from the sun is clean and emissions free. It’s also because solar is now cheaper than coal. At a recent energy auction in Chile, one bidder agreed to provide solar electricity for an astoundingly low 2.9 cents a kilowatt. That’s half the usual price from a coal fired plant.
According to a recent report from Mercom Capital Group, a global clean energy communications and research firm, India is likely to add a total of 4.8 gigawatts of new solar power this calendar year. Through August, new solar installations accounted for 2.8 gigawatts, bring the total nationwide to 8.1 gigawatts.
The report goes on to say that India has 21 gigawatts of solar power planned — 14 under development and 7 soon to be auctioned off.
Separately, Live Mint reports on a recent study by New Delhi-based International Council for Research in International Economic Relations. The report says that access to solar power can help farmers in India water their fields, build cold storage units, and even provide a second source of income by selling excess power back to the grid.
Indian farmers currently use more than 20 million diesel powered pumps to irrigate their fields. Replacing them with solar powered pumps would save farmers millions of dollars through reduced maintenance and fuel costs. The changeover would also keep the pollution from all those diesel pumps out of the skies over the country.
“This model would act as an incentive to adopt solar energy in the country, and reduce ground water exploitation and augment farmers’ income,” the paper said. Up until March 2015, 19,500 solar pumps had been installed in India, but since then an additional 31,472 solar pumps have been installed across the country. “This definitely is a boon for remote rural and agriculture areas without any power access as well as sparse electricity supply,” the paper said.
Besides using solar pumps, farmers could also benefit by leasing crop lands for installing solar panels, while simultaneously harvesting crops, the paper said. “It is like having a second crop of solar power at a height of 15-20 feet with the food crop below on the field,” the study said. It goes on to say that “studies across the globe have proved that shade of solar panels have no negative impact on crop growth, if arranged in a particular configuration that allows sufficient sunlight and wind to pass through to the plants.”