India’s new government has promised to generate enough solar power so that every home can power at least one light bulb by 2019, a Bharatiya Janata Party official told Bloomberg.
Some 400 million Indians lack electricity, and the new government led by Narendra Modi has promised to fulfill a broken promise by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Modi’s government has promised to promote more green energy development while cutting imports of coal, oil and gas.
“We look upon solar as having the potential to completely transform the way we look at the energy space,” said Narendra Taneja, energy convener for Modi’s party.
Modi’s party swept into power last week in the biggest electoral landslide in three decades, reports Bloomberg. The government’s new plan to power a light bulb in every home using the sun will be implemented over five years and will be a federal and state-level effort.
Singh’s government was already planning a $11.7 billion effort to increase the country’s solar capacity six-fold by 2017. The country is looking to capitalize on falling solar panel costs to meet their rapidly growing power demand.
But there are practical constraints that make it difficult for India to push solar and eschew coal, oil and natural gas. For one, the country has just made it more expensive to power the country with solar panels because it has slapped huge tariffs on imported panels from China, the U.S. and other areas.
India is also already struggling to meet its rapidly growing energy demand. Corruption, state-control and overregulation have stifled the Indian energy sector and prevented hundreds of millions of people from gaining access to electricity.
“Political complexity and a tradition of socialist economic practices, however, hindered the complete liberalisation of India’s energy sector, leading to sub-optimal outcomes,” according to a 2012 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). “In this sense, the huge blackouts that occurred in northern India in July 2012 could be seen as a consequence within the framework of incomplete market liberalisation.”
“The goal of providing energy access to the entire population led to well-meaning policies designed to protect the poor, but resulted in a system of untargeted producer and consumer subsidies that prevent a more thorough implementation of a well-functioning and financially-sound energy sector,” IEA noted.
“In combination with an industrial policy that aims to protect the indigenous manufacturing industry through import substitution, India now finds itself trapped halfway along the transition towards an open and well-performing energy sector,” IEA said.
India had an installed electricity generating capacity of 211 gigawatts (GW) in September 2012, most of this coming from coal power. Most of the coal and natural gas power generation is clustered in the western region of the country where they have high population densities and greater power demand.
The country continually suffers from severe power shortages. Utilization rates at power plants have fallen since 2004 because they don’t have enough fuel, highlighting the failures of the country’s centrally-planned energy sector. But the Indian government says 70 percent of Indian households had power in 2005 — 94 percent of urban households and 60 percent of rural ones.
Blackouts are most severe in the rural areas of the county where they can last for long periods of time. Modi’s plan aims to use solar power to curb blackouts in these regions in the next five years. The government says that if the program is successful, every home could get enough solar energy to power two light bulbs, a solar cooker and a television.
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