Rural Electrification & Solar

solar energy in India

India is blessed with huge amount of natural resources. It observes around 300 sunny days a year on an average highlighting a huge potential of solar energy in India. Solar energy could play an important role in alleviating energy poverty.

India receives solar radiation of 5 to 7 kWh/m2 for 300 to 330 days in a year, power generation potential using solar PV technology is estimated to be around 20MW/sq. km and using solar thermal generation is estimated to be around 35MW/sq. km. The Indian energy sector has lately witnessed a rapid growth in an effort to meet the demands of a developing nation. However, continued use of fossil fuels is set to face multiple challenges like depletion of fossil fuel reserves, global warming and other environmental concerns, geopolitical and military conflicts and of late, continued and significant increase in fuel price. Renewable energy is the solution to the growing energy challenges as they are abundant, inexhaustible and environment friendly. Solar Energy in India is one of the most exciting and thriving industries in the world right now. Solar Energy in India is poised to take off in an exponential manner because of unique confluence of favorable Supply and Demand factors. The cost of solar energy has been declining rapidly in past two years and is near to achieve grid parity. Strong support from the government through its National Solar Mission has provided huge support to the industry. According to Energy Investment Analyst-Michael Waldron, the country is on its way to becoming a global economic powerhouse, and energy will lie at the heart of this transformation. The stakes could not be higher to bolster economic growth and enhance living conditions for this nation of 1.3 billion people, which uses just 6% of the world’s energy. Unreliable electrical supplies hinder India’s development said the analyst. International Energy Agency’s India Energy Outlook 2015 report identified poor air quality and unreliable power supplies as key issues in the country. Furthermore, India’s growing dependence on fossil fuel imports, which account for around half of its energy consumption, is also raising new energy security concerns. This makes the energy sector transition a powerful driver for the government’s reform plans to increase the robustness and sustainability of power supplies while expanding affordable energy access. These goals are behind the government’s “24×7 Power for All” initiative to provide access to 245 million people without power by 2019.

solar power in India

Why Electrification in Rural Areas Needed?

The National Solar Mission was framed to promote the use of solar energy for power generation and other application; also promoting the integration of other renewable energy technologies like biomass and wind with solar energy options. The Solar Energy can be tapped via two routes solar thermal and solar photovoltaic. Various tax exemptions, capital subsidies and incentives are available for several components and sub-components of solar energy value chain. JNNSM promotes the assembly of solar modules after import of cells which is free from import taxes. Other benefits like Generation based incentives (GBI), 80% accelerated depreciation income tax benefits on renewable energy products including solar. Several products like Solar lanterns, street lights, blinkers and traffic signals are to be manufactured under specifications laid down by MNRE to avail capital subsidy benefits. Also the Generation based incentives.

The need to have electricity at home, irrespective of location, rural or urban, cannot be overemphasized. Electricity is recognized as a basic human need and it is key to accelerating economic growth, genera-ting employment, eliminating poverty, and enhancing human development. Lighting is correlated to the productive hours of any household, that is, the hour’s children study and adults work. The availability of electricity works to the advantage of women in particular. Global evidence shows that proper lighting in the home and streets increases female literacy and educational attainments, their income-generating options and savings, and their safety and security in public places. According to Sen’s capability framework, energy carriers, particularly electricity, can be understood as an input that expands one’s set of capabilities (by providing lighting and cooling, motive power, preserving food, and facilitating access to the mass media and telecommunications) and thus enables one to function effectively in society. There is a large literature that shows rural electrification greatly contributes to the welfare growth of households and promotes rural-urban integration. Rural households need electricity as much as urban households.

India has strong ambitions to enhance access to modern, secure, sustainable and affordable energy to its growing population. Still millions of people in India lack access to modern energy. Till date they rely on obsolete and inefficient cooking and lighting methods such as kerosene oil. It looks like PM Modi’s dream project of electricity to reach all villages in the country is going to miss the deadline of May 2017, as most states have failed to put up efforts towards last mile connectivity. According to Union Power Ministry’s recent assessment 5,150 villages in the country are still under dark. However couple of years back, India had 12,480 villages without electricity.

The rural communities are still waiting to see the light they have been waiting for ages. People are deprived of carrying on many activities after the sun set. Children are deprived of studying during night, no economic activity can be performed, and women cannot cook after sunset due lack of electricity. There are many other problems associated with the same. Women are still using inefficient cooking stoves that not only use more energy but also give rise to health problems as well as energy poverty.


An innovative solution, Rural Photovoltaic Micro Grid can solve the energy deficiency in the rural areas of the country. According to Ketan Mehta -Co-Founder, Rays Power Infra this system will have a central energy generating unit and a smart control system which will distribute power to the rural households. Each household will be equipped with a smart meter that will interact with the central control system. The smart meter will work on Energy Daily Allowance and will interact with the central control system. A certain amount of energy will be allocated to the consumer on daily basis and the smart meter can calculate the usage for the consumers to utilize the energy frugally.

Micro grids have huge potential in rural areas as setting up the panels in these areas are less expensive and can easily cater to the needs of the rural India by bringing the generation source closer to end-users. As technology progresses, Solar Systems are also getting more efficient and cheaper, eradicating the few drawbacks that have prevented widespread acceptance of solar power.

Challenges and Opportunities of Low Carbon Transition in India’s Power Sector

The contribution of renewable energy to India’s power mix has grown in recent years, significantly reducing the carbon footprints of a power system built primarily on coal raises new challenges, for example, as increasingly cost-competitive renewables are added, improving the flexibility of the system as a whole becomes a priority. Recently few essential questions about India’s energy transition -like what measures and technologies would enhance the ability of the grid to adapt to changing electricity supply and demand patterns? What regulatory and market frameworks would be needed to deliver power where and when it is most valued? How could existing assets be economically used in a more environment sustainable manner? At what cost could a flexible power system be achieved? were answered at a high-level workshop held in New Delhi between the IEA and the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog).

solar energy India

India plans to increase cumulative ren-ewable grid power capacity to 175 gigawatts (GW) by 2022, this 2022 target consists of 100GW solar, 60GW wind and 15GW of other renewables, including small hydro-power,though the majority of the total will come from large-scale renewables. Such a commitment comes with significant cha-llenges. States in India are in very different stages of deploying renewables, with diff-erent resource endowments, an issue that will require co-operation from both state and federal levels said Anil Kumar Jain, NITI’s Additional Secretary for Energy, Climate Change and Overseas Engagements.

Christian Zinglersen, the head of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) Secretariat at the IEA, gave an overview of various regional experiences, noting that some countries have successfully integrated significant volumes of renewable power into their grids, with a particular emphasis on the role of flexibility provided by thermal power generation. He noted that market design and system operation issues often seemed considerably more difficult in some jurisdictions than the technical aspects. Mr Zinglersen outlined a number of IEA and CEM activities to support such issues, including the Thermal Power Plant Flexibility Campaign to be launched at the CEM8 Ministerial meeting in Beijing, in June 2017.

According to IEA and industry experts the current status of coal-fired power generation in general in India and the overall need to ensure that the facilities are modernized and that least-efficient plant be phased out, given the expected large role that coal will continue to play in power supply. Supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal technologies are available and can in general provide more flexibility than subcritical plant. While not a current priority, carbon capture and storage should not be forgotten from India’s future plans. While natural gas has provided flexibility for power systems in otherparts of the world, supply infrastructure remains underdeveloped in India. Meanwhile hydropower is becoming increasingly difficult to expand.

India will need to look at all flexibility options, including an increasingly interconnected grid, storage and demand side measures. An integrated approach would help enable the transition to a low carbon power system, but also requires addressing considerable regulatory challenges, such as the pricing of electricity.The IEA and NITI both stressed the importance of working together in the coming years to further explore how the low carbon transformation of the Indian power system can be achieved and flexibility improved.

Impact of Rural Electrification

Hippu Salk Kristle Nathan, Assistant Professor in the Energy and Environment Programme notes that studies related to rural electrification indicate the following broad consensus concerning the impact of electrification in the rural areas.

  1. Quantifiable benefits: cost saving and increased productivity
  2. Industrial and commercial uses of electricity
  3. Household uses of electricity: Lighting, cooking etc.
  4. Agricultural uses of electricity: Water pumping
  5. Benefits those are difficult to quantify
  6. Modernization, dynamism and attitude changes
  7. Quality of life, community services and participation
  8. Income distribution and social equity
  9. Employment creations

In recent years attention has risen regarding the issue of rural access to electricity supply and regarding the relation between energy (electricity) and poverty. Following are some of the issues identified for implementation of decentralized renewable energy

1) Need for a robust business model

2) Assured supply of raw material

3) Technological issues

4) Economic viability

5) Less conducive government policies for decentralized renewable electricity projects

6) Social issues such as public perception, active involvement of local government

It is clear that decentralized generation is an important option to provide electricity in rural areas in India. But before this dream can be realized, a number of sticky issues relating to policy, technology, regulation, financing and institutional matters, need to be sorted out.

Causes of Solar PV Failure in Rural Areas

Several studies indicate a high rate of failure and highlight difficult operating conditions, and unresolved technical, socio-economic, and institutional factors. As noted in Practical Action, “In rural areas, small energy generation systems, installed to provide electricity to small villages or communities, frequently last a few months before being abandoned.”

Here are some of the possible causes of this failure.

Un-affordability: Affordability is an important consideration in realizing energy access. Energy poverty, indicated by the lack of access to modern energy services, is a direct outcome of income poverty. Even if the installation is provided almost free, at times the cost of replacing components turns out to be higher than what villagers can afford. Battery replacements remain the most crucial challenge for the long-term sustainability of solar PV. For decentralized systems, maintenance costs are generally higher than what is expected during project appraisals. The inability of villagers to afford systems should not be confused with their willingness to pay. Rather, this shows that their income pattern is not suited to the payments they have to make. Also, most of the mini-grid projects suffer from financial unviability which results in discontinuation of operation.

Skilled manpower: The service life of small decentralized energy systems is critically dependent on proper maintenance, which requires technically trained personnel, lack of such skilled manpower leads to frequent stoppages of systems in rural areas, and solar PV systems are no exception.

Lack of Supply Chains: The maintenance of renewable energy systems suffers due to the lack of supply chains for components and spare parts in rural locations. Supply chain constraints result in repairs being delayed. And if tariffs are involved (as in case of microgrids), these delays lead to non-payment, which turns into a vicious cycle of operator’s negligence and consumers’ non payments, and finally a defunct system. The access and follow-up difficulties in rural areas lead to renewable technologies being abandoned.


India added 5,525 MW solar power gen-eration capacity last fiscal, taking the total from this clean source to 12,288 MW. The country has abundant solar power potential which has been estimated to be 748 GW, New & Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal stated in a written reply to Rajya Sabha today.

It had achieved total cumulative solar power generation capacity of 6,763 MW in 2015- 16. The capacity was 1,686 MW in 2012-13 which increased to 2,632 MW in 2013-14 and to to 3,744 MW in 2014-15.

In a separate reply, Goyal said the government has envisaged 4,800 MW from rooftop solar and 7,200 MW from large scale solar power projects in the country. India has plans to add 5,000 MW of rooftop solar and 10,000 MW from large scale solar power projects in the current fiscal, he said.

The country has been steadily growing its solar footprint from a mere 1,686 MW of combined capacity in 2012-13 to 2,632 MW in 2013-14, through to 2014-15, when it reached 3,744 MW.

In the wake of PM Modi’s announcement of the country’s 100 GW solar target by 2022, including 40 GW of rooftop systems and 60 GW of ground-mounted plants, multi-GW trade announcements, many of which came from foreign investors that had recognized the appeal of India’s bullish market, started pouring in. This accompanied the breakthrough year of 2015-16, which witnessed the combined installed capacity of 6,763 MW.

Among states, Andhra Pradesh tops the chart with largest cumulative solar generation capacity of 1,867 MW as on March 31, 2017 followed by Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu at 1,812 MW and 1,691 MW respectively. Wind and solar surpassed set targets in capacity addition, taking a huge step towards achieving 24X7 affordable Power for All, Minister Goyal tweeted recently. In a separate statement, the Minister said that in the ongoing fiscal year the government plans to add 5,000 MW of rooftop solar and 10,000 MW of large-scale solar power projects.

The current capacity figure presented by government is quite impressive, however despite the government’s proactive support in the form of cheaper renewable energy certificates and a broader solar park target, the country is falling behind in its green energy targets under the burden of red tape and inadequate infrastructure.