The 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 (refer). At the same time, the costs of wind and solar have fallen to about 5-10% of what they were in 1990.
India has the option of building its future energy infrastructure around solar (and other renewables, storage and smart grids), rather than coal (refer).
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 a 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 (refer). It is quick and easy to install, making distributed power generation possible. In 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. If solar will be the backbone of India’s future energy economy, that is good news for energy companies around the world: they can offer solutions in a market that is more transparent, more competitive and more environmentally friendly than thermal power.
This 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 to 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. Solar is no longer a niche opportunity. It is mainstream and India has attracted the biggest 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 degree target.
On the other hand, if India can build a modern energy infrastructure around solar, it will be of enormous benefit to everyone (refer). And think of the effect this would have on development conversations everywhere: it can show the way for other countries in a similar stage of development in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – altogether around half the world’s population.