Modi’s solar program makes National Solar Mission look dull

The western Indian state of Gujarat has pulled well ahead of others, including the long-time favorite Rajasthan, in investing in solar technology and projects.

According to the latest industry numbers, Gujarat alone has a solar power production capacity of 200 million watts (200 MW) at peak (noon.)

In comparison, India as a whole had a grid-connected solar power generation capacity of just about 15 million watts (MW) about 2 years ago.

India has a target of raising its total grid-connected solar power capacity to 1,000 MW by 2013. Rajasthan, which alone can meet India’s total power needs by covering a fraction of its desert with solar panels, was expected to be the leader in setting up solar plants. A total of 1% of India’s total land area is estimated to be enough to meet the country’s total power requirements, using current solar technology.

Most of the winners under the 1000-MW phase 1 of India’s Solar Mission also announced their intention to set up plans in Rajasthan. As much as 450 MW out of the total initially sanctioned about 600 MW of solar power generation capacity under the mission is supposed to come up in Rajasthan.

That said, actual operational power capacity is estimated to be only between 50 to 150 MW at present.

But Gujarat, under its chief minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious long-term programs, seems to have snatched the lead away from Rajasthan. A single park at Charanka village in Patan district in Gujarat already has nearly 200 MW of solar power generation capacity, according to SunEdison, one of the global solar leaders that has set up plants in Gujarat.

Against the usualy 1-5 MW panel-based plants that India has been seeing in the past, SunEdison is all set to inaugurate a 25 MW pv power generation plant tomorrow at the park. It will take SunEdison’s total solar production capacity in Gujarat to 45 MW — thrice India’s total grid-connected solar power capacity 3 years ago.

“Owing to the state‚Äôs progressive solar policies, we are confident we can help make Gujarat the national solar hub for India,” said South Asia MD for SunEdison, Pashupathy Gopalan.

SunEdison expects the power yield for the new plant to be about 4,384 units per megawatt per day, or about 18.27% of the maximum possible production as indicated by the name-plate capacity. The figure is considerably than what is normally reported in countries such as Germany and Italy, due to the sunnier climate in the state.

The project was completed in just four months. In comparison, India’s solar mission has been trying to set up projects for close to two years and is likely to miss the March 2013 deadline for having 1,000 MW of capacity online. Central Government agencies now expect only between 300-500 MW of capacity to be ready by then.

Gujarat’s Charanka solar park was set up under Narendra Modi’s ambitious program to tackle problems of climate change and convert Gujarat into a ‘second China’. His projects also include setting up a new financial and tech hub in the state, a new Shanghai, at Dholera.