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09/30/2013 03:34 PM     print story email story  

India Announces World's Largest Solar Plant By Far

SustainableBusiness.com News

Update 10/8/13: 

Below we say that India's auction on 750 MW of solar has been delayed. The government is now calling for bids (due Nov. 29) in the first national auction since 2011. Lowest bidders win and will receive as much as 30% of project costs from government grants. 

Included is a controversial requirement for local content for half of the 750 MW. Opponents say that will raise the cost and lower the quality of projects because of India's very young solar industry. 

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India's government made a stunning announcement - it plans to build the world's largest solar plant that dwarfs anything constructed so far.

Imagine one solar plant that can provide power to 3 million Americans - that is what India has in mind.

A 4 gigawatt (GW) solar plant spread over 23,000 acres in Rajasthan (which borders Pakistan) would be four times bigger than the 10 largest US plants combined. For comparison, the biggest project in the world is under construction - the 579 MW Antelope Valley plant in California.

"Being the first project of this scale anywhere in the world this project is expected to set a trend for large scale solar power development in the world," says India's government.

India's biggest solar park:

India's biggest solar park

The first gigawatt would come online in 2016 and other phases would be implemented based on that success. Skeptics question whether a plant of this size can be completed in just three years.

A joint venture among five government-owned utilities, the Sambhar Ultra Mega Green Solar Power Project would produce the same amount of power as four coal plants that are under construction. In addition to helping the country reduce dependence on coal, that much solar would be a boon in India, where 100,000 people die each year from coal plant pollution.

Building such a massive solar project is intended to help bring solar prices in line with coal, but because the government requires more expensive "low carbon" forms of coal, even India's biggest coal company is turning to solar. Solar is already competitive with diesel and is expected to achieve parity with coal between 2016-2018.

Funding could come from India's recently approved Corporate  Responsibility law, which requires all large companies to kick in 2% of annual net profits for socially responsible projects.

Grid improvements will be necessary to incorporate this much solar, which the government embarked on last week through a  Smart City partnership with IBM.

This massive project is completely separate from India's National Solar Mission, which is taking a hit from contradictory signals. 750 MW of projects have been delayed - and will be approved for auction soon - but there "appears to be no impediment to the announcement of grandiose new schemes," notes CleanBiz.Asia.

Investors are increasingly nervous over whether India will follow through with its policies, given that the Gujurat state government waived national clean energy targets for utilities, which means they can avoid buying power from renewable energy projects.

Under India's National Solar Mission, the target is 1.7 GW of solar by early 2014, and 20 GW by 2022 - 10% of the country's electricity. For renewable energy, the target is 80 GW by 2020. 

1.839 GW of solar have been added under the first phase of the National  Solar Mission and the average price per watt is down 51% since 2010.

Read our article, What's Happening in India?

World's Biggest Coal Plant

Meanwhile, Indian state-owned utility, National Thermal Power Corporation, is in a joint venture with a Bangladesh-owned utility to build the world's largest coal plant - 1320 MW.

Incredibly, it would be built in a UNESCO world heritage site, Sundarbans - which hosts the largest mangrove forest left in the world, habitat for countless plants and animals, including the endangered Bengal Tiger. Besides being crucial for wildlife, the forest protects Bangladesh - one of the most vulnerable countries to rising seas.

"The Sundarbans may be one of the most inappropriate places in the world to build a polluting coal-fired power plant," says Sharon Khan, International Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. "It would be like building one on top of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in the US or at the foot of Uluru in Australia."



Reader Comments (1)

Author:
concerned

Date Posted:
10/02/13 10:18 AM

Re. last three paragraphs: I hold a vision that the inner ability of human beings for common sense and proper husbandry of our planet will surface in those humans who are the Indian policy makers and that will manage to outweigh the greed, ignorance and short-sightedness of National Thermal Power Corporation + Bangladeshi utility company.

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