India will launch its first solar power target by September 2009, according to Reuters. This is to increase the output from near zero to 20 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 as it firms up its national plan to fight global warming, draft documents show. The target, which would help India close the gap on solar front-runners like China, is part of a $19 billion, 30 year scheme that could could boost India's leverage in international talks for a new UN climate pact in December 2009.
If fully launched, the solar power would be equivalent to one-eighth of the India's current installed power base by helping the emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions limit its heavy reliance on dirty coal and assuaging the nagging power deficit that has crimped its growth.
The National Solar Mission, yet to be formally adopted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special panel on climate, envisages the creation of a statutory solar authority that would make it mandatory for states to buy some solar power, as per the draft of the plan, which provided detailed proposals for the first time, obtained by Reuters,
"The aspiration is to ensure large-scale deployment of solar generated power for both grid connected as well as distributed and decentralised off-grid provision of commercial energy services," the policy draft said.
By confirming the proposed plan, a Indian climate official told Reuters that the mission contained quite stiff targets that could be announced in September 2009. In June 2009 a senior climate official had hoped it could be submitted this month.
"The draft should not change much and the target of 20 GW will be there," the official said on condition of anonymity because the issue was still under discussion.
The money would be spent on incentives for the production and installation and also for research and development, and the plan offers financial incentives and tax holidays for utilities.
It envisions three phases starting with 1-1.5 GW by 2012 along with steps to drive down production costs of solar panels and spur domestic manufacturing. The world now produces about 14 gigawatts (GW) of solar power, about half of it added in 2008.
The move could unlock the country's renewables potential and benefit the companies such as Tata BP Solar, a joint venture between Tata Power and BP plc's solar unit, BP Solar, and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, a state-run power and engineering equipment firm, and Lanco Infratech.
The shares in Chinese solar equipment firms like Suntech Power Holdings and Trina Solar have tripled since March 2009, when Beijing first announced subsidies; Beijing is widely expected soon to raise its solar target to up to 20 GW by 2020.
Japan is targeting to achieve 28 GW of solar power by 2020.
The India's climate plan released in 2008 identified harnessing renewable energy, such as solar power, and energy efficiency as central to its fight against global warming. At the moment only about 8% of India's total power mix is from renewables, although it is a leading provider of wind power technology.
The experts said that the voluntary domestic action will add to India's bargaining power in international negotiations, although India's refusal to commit to any binding emission targets has angered many rich countries demanding greater commitment.
"Such unilateral action will give India the moral high-ground because the rich countries have not committed to anything (in terms of finance and technology)," said Siddharth Pathak, Greenpeace India's chief climate campaigner.
About 200 countries met in Copenhagen in December 2008 to try to agree on a broader climate pact to replace the UN's Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase ends in 2012.
The draft policy document estimated that India could reduce about 42 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions with its new solar plan, which aims to provide access to solar-powered lighting for 3 million households by 2012.
The proposed plan is to make the use of solar-powered equipment and applications mandatory for hospitals, hotels and government buildings, and encourage the use of solar lighting systems in villages and small towns with micro financing.
The plan will also outline a system of paying the households for any surplus power from solar panels fed back into the grid.
India's long-neglected power sector is regarded by many observers as the main infrastructure investment opportunity in a country where nearly 56% of the 1.1 billion plus population do not have access to electricity.
In spite of its pledge to clean technology, the coal remains the backbone of India's power sector, accounting for about 60% of generation, with the government planning to add 78.7 GW of power generation during the five years ending March 2012. Of this, 15.1 GW has been commissioned.
In comparison, China's power generation capacity has increased to 792.5 GW in 2008, more than five times India's capacity.
India said that it must use more energy to lift its population from poverty and that its per-capita emissions are a fraction of those in rich nations, which have burned fossil fuels unhindered since the industrial revolution.
India, whose economy has grown by 8-9% annually in recent years, contributes about 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.