Global PV Solar Growth Analysis and Scenario in India

China’s policy shift, mega tender cancellations and policies levying taxes and duties on solar industry in India, feed-in-tariff cut in Japan have made 2018 the year of uncertainty for solar. However, surveys suggest that global PV solar installations will see nearly 18% rise in 2019, finally reaching and may be surpassing 100 GW capacity addition. Although, at the end of 2019, we would still be far from ‘0’ emission future, rising PV installation growth and emergence of new markets within developing countries will get us closer to that goal.

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Sustainability and Climate Improvement needs Long Term Policies

A blanket of CO2 has enveloped the world. And continues to deteriorate our climate. Frequency of heatwaves has increased, habitats have started to shift, spread of disease, raising sea levels and other not so subtle and often violent changes in the climate are now reality due to growing CO2 emission levels. Daily Global CO2 emission levels now stand at 406.47 parts per million. It is important to note that CO2 emission levels have never risen this high in last 400,000 years. Our fossil fuel usage is the primary reason behind this rise (80% of CO2 emissions come from fossil fuel combustion) that is presenting devastating changes within the environment. Fortunately, now the world is taking initiatives towards reducing the CO2 emission. However, the damage to the climate that we have done through decades of fossil fuel usage cannot be undone instantly; therefore, what the world needs is long term strategies to reduce carbon emission by adopting green energy and reducing fossil fuel usage.

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Countries need Domestic Solar Manufacturing, Not a Global Supplier!

Fossil fuel reserves are limited and are very close to depletion. The continuously shrinking reserves have given rise to energy cost, which stand to deprive more people (already 1 bn people live without electricity) of energy and spewed toxic fumes that have led to environmental degradation. Facing such a scenario, the world is on its way to adopt sustainable energy that can offer release from economic and environmental binds forged by fossil fuel usage. Solar continues to win the favour of the world as the best replacement of fossil fuels. However, what it can bring is more than sustainable energy for all; it can offer a chance to build a better economy and social structure within a country, which developing countries desperately need.

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The Chinese Solar Story: Some Learnings

India’s decision to adopt green energy through solar has opened up new opportunities for energy and economic growth through industrial development. And although, India’s initiatives to support and ramp up solar should be commended, the country is nowhere close to giants like China who have become the global supplier and have dwarfed other countries in solar installations (~145 GW). China announced a new energy policy in June 2018, which terminated approvals for new, subsidized utility-scale PV power stations, halting in-country solar growth within China. The country’s new announcement of revising renewable energy consumption targets to 35% by 2030 puts China back in its mantle of industry leader.

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The Re-Alignment

China’s previous decision to shrink its renewable energy target would have dealt a terrible blow to aspiring solar manufacturing industries in developing countries like- India with influx of cheaper solar modules. However, this new policy revision re-iterates how China continues to re-align its industries and priorities to support solar growth. The new policy shows China proposing higher green power consumption targets while mandating penal action against those who fail to meet goals to help fund government subsidies to producers. China became the leading force in global solar industry (in 2017, China accounted for 54% of global PV installations) by focusing on expanding manufacturing capacities and offered subsidies to projects development. Growing subsidy cost ($15.6 billion in 2016) which are suspected to reach $39 billion by 2020 pushed China to stop its renewable energy expansion.

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However, what is exceptional is how rapidly China has solved its internal issues and are back with solar energy growth. The reason behind China’s prompt action is its obvious understanding of the solar opportunity and the promise it holds. By focusing on solar manufacturing capacity growth, China has been able to support industrial growth. Leading to job creation and economic progress. As testimony, we can take example of India and China’s influence over its solar market. ~80% of Indian solar market has been claimed by China and in In FY 17-18 the India’s solar module import expenditure stood at $3.8 billion (mostly from China). This proves that China’s decision on gaining manufacturing prowess has served the country well. And to protect what the country had built, to create and maintain demand of its domestically manufactured solar products, and to keep encouraging solar entrepreneurs; in a nutshell we can say that China sprung to action to press on its advantage in the growing global solar industry.

India Must Re-Prioritize Solar

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India has taken initiatives and created policy environment to support solar manufacturing. However, recent policy developments such as imposing 25% safeguard duties that target SEZ based solar manufacturers, differential GST rates (5% for modules and 12-18% for other inputs), and continued solar importing (FY 17-18 spent $3.8 bn) have come forward as a great challenge for domestic solar manufacturing in India.

Like China and other dominating solar countries, India must understand that strengthening domestic manufacturing eco-system is not just the best but the only choice for India to gain energy security and self reliance. And as statistics show, India can become the third largest economy in the world by focusing on domestic manufacturing, which promises to improve social, industrial, and economic infrastructure. Domestic solar manufacturing can create jobs, reduce import expenses, build industrial infrastructure within a country. This is clearly in alignment of ‘Make in India’ initiative, which also need to be re-prioritized for India’s growth.

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India has an exceptional opportunity to become energy super power and facilitate industrial and economic growth through choosing solar. But, manufacturing has to be focused to see this transition into reality. India has the perfect example in front of it, and it is China. China’s growth and tenacity towards supporting solar growth should inspire India to go all in solar.

Keeping it cool: The urgent need to control emissions before it’s too late

A recent report by The Centre for Policy Research and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has predicted that India’s CO2 emissions from energy generation will nearly double in 2030 from its 2012’s emission figures. Although, this 91-98% increase in CO2 emission is still going to be in line with nationally determined (in Paris Agreement) CO2 emission level; factoring in 2012’s emission figures-2 billion tonnes of CO2, it is safe to say that the rise is considerable.

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The Bittersweet Dilemma

The research report showed that recently introduced policies (2015 and beyond) are well in their way to lead India towards a faster than predicted green energy transition, which will shrink coal’s dominating share in India’s energy equation and reduce per capita emissions than today’s global average. In that case, we can come to an understanding that the policy interventions and Government initiatives towards renewable energy (especially solar) growth will have a material impact on reducing India’s future emissions.

The report also shines light on the fact that even if India’s emissions doubled by 2030, it will be lower than China’s equivalent emissions in 2015. Therefore, it can be considered as a progressive environment building up towards a sustainable green future, right?

Well, it is progressive indeed but we also have to understand that although, this is a move towards success, the picture is not very appealing right now. The efforts need to be considerably increased to reach and frankly surpass the goals. It will help us reduce our carbon emissions even more, which is a necessity.

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The Current Scenario

Presently, India is going through terrible shifts in environment behaviour, due to increased CO2 emissions within the country and the world. There are unprecedented spells of hot weather, change in Monsoon bringing issues of droughts and flood, significant fall in crop yield that can destabilize the social, economic structure of the country, adding to the turmoil.

Research has found that areas in north-western India, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh have seen considerable drop in crop yield and suspected to fall further due to changing climate. As India is dependent on agriculture and about 60% of its agriculture is supported by rain, higher or lower than average rains are affecting the country. Also, rising carbon dioxide levels due to global warming is suspected to shrink down the amount of protein in crops like rice and wheat, which are the primary food source for majority of the population in India. Such conditions are leaving populations at risk of malnutrition, low immunity and raising the risk of diseases affecting the population severely.

India recorded its hottest day in the city of Phalodi, Rajasthan, when the temperature reached 51 degree C and according to a research by MIT in the US, the temperature in India will further increase in coming years.

Coastal cities like Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai are also suspected to be affected by sea level rise. Rising sea-level and surges of storm would also impact agriculture, degrade groundwater quality, increasing the risk of contamination in water, and giving rise to diarrhoea and cholera.

Way Forward

With effects of climate change getting dangerous every year, countries like India need to boost efforts at reducing CO2 emissions now, which is an opportunity now through opting renewable  energy transition (mainly solar). We, as a country, should understand that lowering our future CO2 emissions in comparison to industrial giant China’s past emission statistics (its 2015’s emission statistics) is not a win for us now and we need to rectify internal mechanics to support renewable energy growth. It is important to highlight that The Government of India introduced National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) in 2010-11, as India’s carbon tax, levying duties on coal to fund cleaner energy projects and combat climate change. And in last 6-7 years, India has collected more than Rs 54,000 crore through clean energy cess by levying taxes on coal mined or imported. However, it is important to note that only half of the total collected cess (22,063 Crore) was transferred to NCEF from 2010-2017. From that amount, the investment towards projects were amount INR 17,469 crores from 2011 to 2017, and MNRE’s share from that amount was INR 12,429 Crore. On top of that, the Government of India using NCEF fund to compensate various state Governments for their loss in revenue due to GST, clearly contradicts with India’s green energy vision and initiatives.

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India must utilize initiatives such as NCEF and incorporate other policies such as- carbon pricing, while supporting renewable energy growth through investment and encouragement. It is apparent that joining the fight against climate change is not a choice anymore it is a necessity. Although initiatives of the Government should be appreciated, we should not sit idly by the predictions of a marginal success. We need to focus at prioritizing the renewable energy industry and solving its critical issues through investment and policy intervention to create momentum and see our country solve not just energy issues, but create a better social and economic structure that works towards restoring the environment.

Note: This article was published in prominent solar magazines like- EQmagpro, Energy Economic Times on 17th November 2018.