Solar market poised for growth in India with solar champion as PM.

Guardian: “From the observation tower in the Thar desert and as far as the eye can see, the dark blue arrays of a million solar panels can be seen sitting silently on the red dust. The Charanka solar park in Gujarat is an “ultra-mega” power project – the Indian government’s phrase – and the biggest in Asia.”
“But unlike the hundreds of coal plants and their noxious smokestacks being built in the country, the only danger linked to the solar panels are the snakes and scorpions that slink and scuttle between the sparse shrubs, posing a minor hazard to those who dust off the panels after dusk.
“But today, God is doing the cleaning,” says Poojan Ghodadra, programme manager for SunEdison, as rare, intense rain bounces off the panels. SunEdison has provided about a 10th of the 221MW total in the 5,000-acre solar park.
The project was the brainchild of Narendra Modi. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi spurred companies to build more than 900MW of solar plant across the state in just a couple of years. Now, as prime minister, the question is whether he can repeat the feat across India, which receives more sunlight than any other country in the G20.
….As production goes up, panel costs are plummeting – down 80% since 2008, according to the New Climate Economy report released on 15 September. This puts solar on the edge of beating coal and gas on price.
Such energy choices are now on Modi’s desk: he has pledged to give electricity to every one of the 300 million Indians living in the dark, a feat he achieved on the smaller stage of Gujarat, and energy experts in India are impressed with the impetus given in his first 100 days to renewable energy, particularly solar. Three more ultra-mega solar parks were backed with cash in July, as were solar-powered irrigation pumps and canal-top solar plants. The electric fences on India’s sensitive northern borders will be solar-powered as the military installs 1,000MW of panels to replace expensive diesel generators across its posts. Another 7,000MW of solar is out for tender across the country and the rooftops of Delhi are to be bedecked with panels under a new scheme.
Modi’s power minister, Piyush Goyal, says solar has a glittering future. The previous government’s target of 20,000MW of solar by 2022 will be smashed, he says. “It will be much, much larger. I think for India to add 10,000MW a year [of solar] and six, or seven or eight of wind every year is not very difficult to envisage.”
But coal has not gone away. Electricity produced by coal burning between June and August 2014 jumped 21% on 2013 and, despite corruption allegations, coal mining is increasing. The state coal company aims to double production to 1bn tonnes a year by 2019.

All acknowledge that coal must provide the steady power needed to underpin India’s rapid economic development: if the 360 million Indians living in poverty were a nation, it would be the third most populous on Earth. But the extent to which plummeting solar panel costs and their sometimes surprising fringe benefits help solar eat into coal’s share of the energy mix is crucial to keeping emissions down.
On a 15-metre-wide (50ft) irrigation canal that cuts through the green cotton and barley fields of Gujarat, another Modi project illustrates the extra benefits. Here, 3,600 solar panels stretch more than half a mile along the waterway, but do not just produce power. With water the critical resource for the farmers, the shading of the canal by the solar array saves an estimated 9m litres of water from evaporating each year while the cooling effect of the water under the panels edges up the electricity output.
Furthermore, the part of the canal in the sun is clogged with reeds but in the shade of the panels, the water flows freely. Spanning the canal, while adding cost, also avoids covering valuable farmland with panels. “The canal is the property of the government, so the cost of the land goes away too,” says Ghodadra.
….Bloomberg predicts parity for solar in India by 2020, while solar consultancy Bridge to India suggests 2018. “I think the grid parity debate is history now,” says Gopalan.
Grid parity would mean solar subsidies could be phased out, but Mehta notes thatfossil fuels still get more than $40bn (£24bn) in subsidy every year in India: “You give me [a fraction] of that and I will make solar affordable and available everywhere.”
But despite highlighting the advantages of solar power – and new incentives to close old and dirty coal plants – energy minister Goyal is unable to pledge that the proportion of electricity generated from coal will fall from its current 65% in the coming years.
“I would love it to be lower,” he says. “But the ambitious plans India has to expand infrastructure, create jobs, improve the lives of people, get 24/7 power in every home, I think considering the huge magnitude of the demand shift, for renewables to meet this kind of demand will have serious challenges. So I would imagine coal also would have to expand in a very rapid way.” Even solar champion Mehta agrees, expecting the proportion to be unchanged in 2030.”