The promises and perils of the solar energy boom

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The array of dark blue panels stretching across the White Desert is a startling sight – and an unprecedented technological feat. This is the Bhadla solar park in the Indian state of Rajasthan, currently the largest such installation in the world. It has a capacity of 2.25 gigawatts (GW) spread over 56 square kilometers – at full capacity, it can power four and a half million homes. Bhadla ushered in a golden age of cheap and abundant solar power in India. It is a sign of success, but also a warning.

“This is a very special project,” says Sandeep Kashyap, president of ACME solar, one of the leading solar developers in India. In 2017, while Bhadla was still under construction, the company won a tender for the construction of 200 MW of panels and was able to sell contracts for the electricity it would produce at the record price of 2.44 Indian rupees (£ 0.024) per kilowatt hour, about half of what was possible until then.

Being able to cut solar prices so drastically was a big deal – it could revolutionize the solar industry in India and beyond – and many believed it just couldn’t be done. At the time, many feared the project would bend even before the panels were installed. “There was a lot of apprehension. Kashyap said. “But not only did we deliver the plant, we did so a month before the deadline.”

Through a mix of good policies and technical innovations, coal-dependent India has started a solar revolution that the world admires and investors want to be a part of. But after an initial boom, the country’s dream of renewable energy is facing a reality. as India attacks parts of its economy that are more difficult to decarbonize.

Today India is home to four of the ten largest solar farms in the world and has one of the world’s most ambitious solar targets, aiming to reach 280 GW of grid-connected capacity by the end of the decade, as part of a larger 450 GW project. renewable target. If this were the case today, India would be the world’s largest solar producer, well above China which currently sits at 204 GW of installed capacity.

Behind Bhadla’s success, Kashyap says, were technologies that had never been deployed on such a scale before. The solar panels had a higher voltage than the conventional 1000 volts, which meant higher efficiency and lower costs. The panels have been cleaned by machines rather than people, ensuring their surfaces stay dust free longer to trap more energy from the sun. On the financial side, acquiring land in a desert is easier and cheaper, because no one is displaced in the process, a problem that India, with its dense urban population, is very aware of.

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