During peak usage hours solar power has already achieved grid parity in India

The National Solar Mission, a directive unveiled by India in 2010, intends to increase to 20,000 Megawatts the amount of India’s solar installation by 2022. It is a far-reaching and ambitious plan, which could result in burgeoning solar photovoltaic (PV) business opportunities in India.

The question, though – and one which will be the chief focus of discussion at an upcoming conference organized by leading global solar energy (PV) think-tank, SolarPlaza – is this: Are 100 MW PV power plants already feasible in India?

“I definitely believe a 100 Megawatt plant in India is a distinct possibility,” said Pashupathy Gopalan, the VP of South Asian operations for MEMC and SunEdison. Gopalan, one of the featured speakers at the conference, said that India is ready right now, but “it is going to take a few years before the programs can become larger and developers are given larger projects to execute.”

In India’s favor, added Gopalan, is the availability of land within districts that have good insulation – no easy claim given the specific requirements of large scale solar plants.

“That is something that, in terms of environmental assessment, helps a solar PV project to move forward,” he said.

Vijay Anand Bhagavatula, the Deputy General Manager for Corporate Strategy and Business Initiatives for Moser Baer – one of India’s foremost technology companies – also is scheduled to speak at the event and carries a message of high hopes for high-powered PV plants in India; a message that relies heavily on the ability to reach parity.

“It’s all linked to grid parity right now, and in all probability we will have that in about six or seven years,” he said. “In the Indian market what has happened in the last few years is that the government has decided to try to reduce carbon emissions 24% by 2020, which leaves about ten years or so for us to go green. That is what the National Solar Mission is founded on and also the key driver of solar power into the future. Our national agenda aside, there are independent states that have devised their own solar policy. In the next twelve or eighteen months we will in fact see large scale solar farms connected to the grid, as well as rooftop installations, and additional support from companies going green.”

India offers unique challenges to the establishment of large scale PV, which Bhagavatula suggested are not financial. The most difficult challenge, he surmised, could chiefly be the resolving of the fact that India’s energy needs are myriad, and complicated.

“There are regions in India that are cut off completely from the rest of the world, and so we need to pursue large scale power plants and, at the same time, decentralized power connecting those that are cut off to the mainstream,” said Bhagavatula. “Large scale solar power plants will definitely help us conquer our unique challenges. We are currently educating our private sector financial institutions regarding the ease with which it takes to implement a solar project vis-à-vis a coal plant or a hydro plant, which takes about four or five years. The advantage of clean technology is evident to everyone here, and our financial institutions in the private sector are taking note and stepping forward to support our solar agenda.”

But is it realistic to think that one of India’s long-term goals – the ability to generate solar at 10 cents per kilowatt hour – is possible down the road?

“That is indeed a long-term goal,” said Bhagavatula. “Because during peak usage hours solar has already achieved parity. At peak summer hours we are on par and in range of the summer season numbers for electricity. So, we really are getting there.”

Both mr. Bhagavatula and mr. Gopalan will be speaking at the conference ‘The Solar Future: India’ on January 24 and 25, 2011, in New Delhi.