When it comes to furthering usage of the sun’s radiation, India happens to currently hold a leading position.
With a highly-fitting, mostly-sunny climate, it’s among the strongest candidates to optimally use our sun’s vast potential.
Furthermore, it founded ISA (International Solar Alliance – a group of 121 countries focused on solar power development to various degrees).
But what constitutes the exact reasons for India heading the charge?
Where lie the causes of its fixation, climate aside, and when did it start?
The answers lie below, along with the timeline of development.
What Brought India To Where It Stands Today?
Let’s start with the original question – When did solar power harnessing start in India?
The literal answer is question is “In the eighties” (more on that below).
However, India first considered the addition of solar power as a supplementary source of replenishable electricity, not a major one.
The comparison to today’s rampant solar power use shows a far less enthusiastic view of this type of energy generation.
In the late sixties and seventies, India was already focusing on RES – renewable energy sources – but chose to focus on nearly all other sources of RES, such as water sources and geothermal energies; solar power was left behind.
Yet, today, India is a vast presence in the stellar power industry.
Here’s a few reasons for this rapid development across the years:
Firstly, India maintains a climate fitting for solar power usage – while there’s a great climate diversity within the country, as a whole, it has access to large amounts of consistent sunlight.
India gets around 300 sunny days on average, giving it incredible potential for sun-based power generation.
Second, India holds large numbers of rural establishments, which are harder to divert to and benefit more from both small-scale and large-scale solar power usage.
The country’s power grid was developed with extreme difficulty (in some areas), making local and personal power sources for off-grid locations incredibly important.
Many of these rural locations don’t have the conditions for conventional power generation, being in remote places or hard-to-access ones, or simply being too distant from the grid.
Thus, not only was creating solar arrays useful for these locations, but the integration of small-scale solar utility devices like heaters also helped them out greatly.
These devices include lamps, heaters, batteries and similar tech.
Third, India possesses a substantial amount of power issues even when not considering its grid.
These mostly concern its power independence and distribution, as it wasn’t stable power-wise in the past, though it’s getting much better at the moment.
India’s plans for RE (renewable energy) expanse were made with its independence in mind (capacity-wise).
Many citizens went powerless, and some got their electricity through dubious means.
The minimization of both of these occurrences was the goal of India’s electricity-development operations.
What Makes Solar Power So Great?
For the sake of fully understanding India’s reasoning for solar development, along with details of its advent in that field – here’s a concise list of pros and cons of solar power.
The most obvious pro of solar energy harvesting is that using it doesn’t pollute the environment, nor draw upon any natural resources.
While sun-based energy production technically produces pollution, the amount is utterly minuscule compared to conventional electric fonts and can be safely disregarded.
Solar power is above all other electric fonts, even geothermal and hydro when it comes to long-term viability.
While water sources may eventually be compromised and geothermal isn’t eternal, the sun will last for billions of years (and that’s an understatement).
A more important capability, for India at least, is that this is a very portable power source compared to others; installing solar panels (be it single or in an array) is rather easy and furthermore, using minor solar-powered devices saves citizens large amounts of electricity, while they can be used in most locations.
These devices can make an off-the-grid establishment use electricity efficiently, with rooftop panels, generators, and batteries.
As noted above, many locations suffer from supply issues simply due to their inaccessibility, so this is a great boon for them.
A final advantage is that sun-based systems require little upkeep, and this goes both for large-scale and small-scale variants (panels and panel arrays).
Faults are uncommon and there are no major negative effects from faulty panels and the like.
No excess waste is produced and as long as arrays/panels are adequately protected, they’re perfectly safe.
Solar panel cleaning is an incredibly easy task, especially when compared to the amount of operations that some other reactors require.
So, what are its disadvantages?
Solar panels are costly for local/personal use, and arrays are costly for the government (though consistent research also means more efficient production is being developed).
To combat this, India invests deeply into both commercial and government usage of panels, and also their mass-production.
Solar power can only be generated during daytime (unlike with thermodynamic panels) and must be stored for overnight usage.
Batteries for any electric font are inefficient compared to direct usage and costly to produce and maintain.
Solar power still pollutes, although the effect is rather negligible, as mentioned above.
Suffice to say that the pros outweigh the cons, especially for India.
Records of India’s Solar Power Development
While prior considerations existed, true solar power development began in 1981 when CASE (Commission for Additional Sources of Electricity) was formed.
CASE was charged with promoting, funding and generally supporting solar power research and integration.
Simultaneously, STEC (Solar Thermal Energy Centre) was founded with a focus on solar power use, research, and optimization, to increase production.
From 1981 to 1983, somewhere between 20 and 30 solar-powered heater systems were installed for industrial use.
In 1982, a department specifically made to deal with non-standard electric sources (DNES – Department of Non-Conventional Energy Sources) was formed.
This department was a subsidiary of India’s Ministry of Energy – while STEC was research-oriented, DNES was in charge of providing (further) funding and organization for RE development (including, of course, solar power).
To facilitate solar panel production, NASPAD (National Solar Photovoltaic Energy Demonstration Program) was started.
NASPAD had a hard focus on solar generation hardware production and improvement, it was conceived to make the aforementioned panels, as well as any other solar devices more efficient.
Between 1885 and 1890, the Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell was developed, further increasing the efficiency of power generation.
It was 1987 when IREDA (Indian RE development agency) was formed with the intent of finally commercializing and promoting sun-based electricity; IREDA was backed by outsider entities such as the Asian Development Bank and the Netherlands.
Between 1992 and 1997, India acknowledged the sun’s usefulness when it comes to supplying and sustaining rural areas.
This was the major change, as this realization kickstarted India’s efforts into making the power source that much more viable.
Anything before this was simply research on the side, as other renewable energy sources were already fairly successful – but the potential that solar energy portability offered was too immense to ignore.
India had over 10000 villages that lacked conventional electricity access, not to mention supply issues in general.
(At time of writing, this number is several thousand lower)
A plan was created to facilitate solar use in these rural areas, not just generation through panels and the like, but also the usage of sun-powered devices for everyday needs.
Between 1997 and 2002, independent producers of RE (IRPP – Independent Renewable Power Producers) were given access to official power lines so they could divert their energy supplies to buyers/consumers.
IRPP was encouraged to further develop and perfect RE use through their endeavors.
In 1997, a Special Action Plan (SAP) was conceived with the aim of upgrading and standardizing the country’s RE production methods.
This plan upgraded or replaced all possible RE hardware, including solar panels, which were made to utilize solar photovoltaic cells.
Related to this plan – PATSER (Programme Aimed at Technological Self Reliance) was a program launched soon after the plan began, which had the intent of upgrading existing solar technology.
At this point, India was already knee-deep in the solar power field.
Further development saw RE brought to a plethora of isolated settlements, along with massive energy production gains country-wide.
Meanwhile, the hardware and capabilities of panels and similar devices was always being worked on, and still is.
Notable Operations & Events
These are the most important operations that India committed to in regards to solar power:
Barefoot Solar Engineers – a non-government organization that would hold campaigns that teach low-education citizens about RE.
BSE taught these citizens about the benefits of stellar power, and also proper operation methods for solar devices like lanterns or cookers.
It also provided job opportunities for those capable and interested.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) was launched in January 2010.
This was a development plan made to ensure independent electricity for India – it’s been massively successful since its conception.
The plan can be pinpointed as the root of India’s intense recent production efforts.
Aside from personal (country-wise) benefits, the plan also outlines the ecological benefits of solar power.
Suffice to say – it was a major wake-up call for other interested countries.
Notably, the goals of the plan were met with utter ease and were greatly exceeded (the goals were, of course, appropriately increased afterward)
The goal was to make India secure by 2022 and fully independent later on when it came to electric generation.
Specifically, India’s goal for 2022 was 20 GW, but the country already reached this number by 2018 (it currently has a bit more than 31)
The goal was raised to a more realistic 100 GW since that point.
Governmental Promotion Efforts
Simply developing solar power isn’t enough.
Incentivizing solar power development outside of the government’s efforts is also a major part of India’s plans.
Here’s some of the moves India made:
The 2003 Electricity Act, which established reasonable pricing for energy distribution.
The 2005 National Electricity Policy, which aims to help with non-governmental distribution and selling of solar (and other renewable) energy.
The 2008 National action plan on climate change, which increased the country’s set goals for selling renewable energy.
The 2017 Semiconductor policy, which provided unique pricing and distribution advantages for semiconductors, drawing from investments.
The Current State Of Events
In the past four years, India’s solar production capacity has quadrupled, making it one of the fastest-growing solar energy producers on the planet.
At the moment, India is among the leading countries when it comes to solar power development, with incredibly low costs (the lowest, in fact) for system installation, and holding many connections in the worldwide solar industry.
India continues to bring electricity to more rural areas, making further advancements in the solar power industry.
Interestingly, rooftop solar panels only provide around 2 GW of India’s total solar power.
The goal set for 2022 for rooftop panels specifically is 40 GW – indicating an incoming storm of mass production.
Hopefully, the updated numbers for the JNNSM will be reached by 2022.
This would more than double India’s solar power capacity, but considering they already exceeded their original estimations, it may be reached.
Here’s some of the planned and proposed goals for future solar power advancements in India:
New, easier ways to finance and invest in solar power would be provided, such as simple bonds.
Usage of digital and analog media to spread awareness and further education about the importance and value of solar energy throughout the country.
Courses and programs would be added to standard education that deals with renewable energy sources and the operation, construction and production of those devices.
Further financial advancements.
Some specific plans include the production of more solar parks and (the hilariously named) Ultra Mega Solar Power Projects.
Solar power development in India started in the eighties, though it was considered way back in the sixties.
It was viewed as a supplementary energy source at first.
Through technological advancements and recognition of its usefulness for rural areas and portable/local energy generation, it became a major focus for India.
Simply put, there was a realization that solar power isn’t only good for saving money, but could also be an alternative to cumbersome (sometimes nigh-impossible) power grid expansion.
After this realization, the country devoted more of its resources into developing and marketing solar power.
The 2010 Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission marks the second important milestone.
It was a country-wide plan that sought to increase energy production, reach Indian energy independence, and reduce pollution.
The plan was a massive success, and India continues to be a “Solar leader” to this day.