While the massive blackouts in India are focusing attention on the opportunities for clean power in India, the country already has many solar projects under way. Here are some of the most notable and promising efforts.
India’s massive grid blackouts this month have been the subject of much debate and much concern — and from a clean power perspective, highlights a market where there is much opportunity. But there are actually a good deal of projects in India that are already focused on installing solar projects, both for rural villages and larger utility-scale programs. Here’s 10 that I’ve been following:
1). Solar-power microgrid service in rural villages: Startup Mera Gao Power wants to have a total of 70 villages electrified with its solar panels, cell phone charging service, and distribution lines by the end of 2012. Co-founders Jaisinghani and Brian Shaad have been working on these projects for about two years, and their business innovation was to sell the solar power as a service. One microgrid system that can electrify about 50 households costs $1,200 and includes two solar panels, two batteries and four distribution lines. The villages agree to have the system installed and then households in the villages pay about 25 rupees per week for the service (the cost of kerosene for lanterns can be around 30 rupees per week). The system starts to pay for itself after a certain period of time.
2). One of India’s first megawatt-scale rooftop solar projects: Azure Power, a startup run by entrepreneur Inderpreet Wadhwa, is developing a project that puts solar panels on dozens of rooftops and shares revenues from power sales with the building owners. Five-year-old Azure is venture capital backed and engineers, builds and operates its own power projects and sells the electricity to utilities. Most of the at least 56 MW worth of solar projects that Azure has built are ground-mounted projects, but more recently Azure won this deal to build part of a huge rooftop system in the Gujarat state government. Azure plans to install solar panels on over 60 rooftops and complete the project by March 2013.
3). 600 MW of solar in Gujarat: The Indian state of Gujarat in April threw a big party to celebrate the commissioning of 600 MW of solar energy projects over a year. Much of that occurred (214 MW) from a solar park in the Patan district. But over 50 companies have built solar power projects in Gujarat, including SunEdison, Tata Power, Lanco Solar, Moser Baer, Adani Enterprises and GMR Gujarat Solar Power.
4). The aspirational country goal: TheNational Solar Mission in January 2010 set a goal of installing 20 GW of grid-connected solar and 2 GW of off-grid solar by 2022 — that’s 3 percent of the country’s power using solar by 2022. This has led to auctions won by developers at rock bottom prices (almost too low to get them done profitably). Individual states also have their own solar plans.
5). SunEdison experimenting with rural projects, too: While project developer SunEdison has brought 45 MW of solar projects in Gujarat online, it is also looking at how it can make solar panel projects work in rural villages. Its project will focus on building a business model for designing, installing and managing solar systems for 29 villages in India’s Guna District. The 29 projects will be funded through a combo of government grants and private funds from other investors and corporations.
6). Selling solar like cell phone service:Startup Simpa Networks has developed a home solar panel product for off-grid customers controlled by a mobile, pay-as-you-go system. Customers pay for only the electricity produced by the solar panel at their home, in addition to a small upfront payment for the system. The basic solar system is 25 watts to 50 watts, which can power a couple of CFL lights, a mobile phone charger and maybe a fan or a TV cable box.
7). Solar teaming up with water use: One of SunEdison’s solar projects is a 1 MW installation over nearly half a mile of the Narmada Canal in the state of Gujarat. It will produce electricity and conserve land and water. Other companies are looking to sell solar-powered projects to the agricultural and water industries. Claro Energy is looking to sell solar-powered irrigation pumps to Indian farmers.
8). Solar lanterns: Startup d.light recently celebrated its fifth anniversary and the company has reached the goal of 7 million people using its solar-powered products (see photo) in 40 countries. The company says sales growth between May 2011 and 2012 was 400 percent and d.light focuses on India and countries in Africa. The company is backed by Indian VC firm Nexus Venture Partners, Indian conglomerate the Mahindra Group, venture firm DFJ, and others.
9). Giant solar thermal projects: Areva Solar is building a 250 MW solar thermal project in the northwestern part of India (in the state of Rajasthan) that will use mirrors to concentrate sunshine onto water filled tubes to produce steam — steam that will drive a turbine and make electricity. The project is supposed to be half way done by spring 2013.
10). Solar for cooking, heating, making stuff: A company called Flareum sells solar concentrating systems that can be used for cooking, and for producing steam and heat for industrial applications. Siemens is using some of the solar systems at factories in Bangalore.