‘India installs record amount of solar in 2022: NPR

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'India installs record amount of solar in 2022: NPR
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As the 27th UN Climate Change Conference draws to a close, India is bragging that it installed a record amount of solar power in 2022 in an attempt to wean itself off coal.



ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The COP27 climate summit ended on Sunday with a historic agreement to compensate developing countries hard hit by global warming. One of the beneficiaries of this aid will be India, which is jostling for more renewable energy sources. This year, the country installed a record amount of solar power, as NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: How many stories does this building have?

CHINMAY DIVEKAR: There are 27.

FRAYER: Twenty-seven. So we now climb a ladder to the top of the roof – a nice view. Wow. You can see the mountains.

DIVEKAR: So it’s called Thane Creek.

FRAYER: Body of water in the distance.

DIVEKAR: Yeah.

FRAYER: It’s not just the mountains that are impressive. This is the view ahead of them of thousands of rooftop solar panels.

DIVEKAR: So you see most of the buildings – you can see that this building is solar powered. So…

FRAYER: Just a few years ago, they weren’t there.

DIVEKAR: No, not at all.

FRAYER: Chinmay Divekar is a solar entrepreneur who is part of this change. His business partner is Jay Vyas, an accountant who, in his 60s, became a solar evangelist. Before our interview, he sent me a brochure he wrote called “Sunny Makes Money”.

JAY VYAS: When I wake up in the morning, I’m committed to talking about solar to at least three people every day. You are one of them today.

FRAYER: Until recently, though, it was a tough sell. Despite significant tropical sunshine, about 70% of India’s electricity comes from coal. Renewable energy mainly means massive solar power plants in the deserts of Rajasthan or Gujarat or farmers using a panel or two to run irrigation pumps in rural areas, where the grid is fragile. Solar never really caught on in urban India. The government subsidizes electricity, so it’s cheaper here than in the West. And most solar panels are imported and expensive – not worth it for a single household. But that’s changing with the government’s record investment in renewable energy this year, says energy economist Vibhu Tigard.

VIBHU TIGARD: Players who wish to set up solar roofs can register themselves. They will receive government grants.

FRAYER: Government subsidies for the domestic production of solar panels. This is what neighboring China has done to ensure the success of its own solar industry. Jay and Chinmay imported fairly expensive solar panels from Singapore or Germany. Now they use Indians.

They are therefore Indian products.

VYAS: These are panels made in India. These are – this is our latest installation.

SPEAR: It says RenewSys, India, Limited Liability Company.

Jay shows me his latest installation atop a large condo complex on the northeast outskirts of Mumbai. The building manager is Swati Nevgi. As panel prices plummeted, residents of his building bet on solar.

SWATI NEVGI: (Inaudible) The company invested 1.4 million rupees.

FRAYER: It’s to buy the panels themselves and install them.

NEVGI: Panels. Complete project – in 2020 we achieved half a million in recovery savings.

FRAYER: So it’s less than three years. Investment is…

NEVGI: The investment is recovered.

STRAWBERRY: Yeah.

They recouped their investment with lower energy bills. But there is a catch. These new national panels are not entirely national, says Chinmay.

DIVEKAR: So basically the silicone that’s inside – which is still imported from China. And that is subject to price fluctuation, so many other factors.

FRAYER: Some components still need to be imported.

DIVEKAR: But now there are huge manufacturing capacities put in place by – I don’t know if you know these two groups, Adani and Ambani. And…

FRAYER: Who has not heard of these two names in India?

DIVEKAR: Yeah.

FRAYER: Two of India’s biggest conglomerates are getting government help to relocate India’s entire solar panel supply chain. And if that happens, prices could drop further. Within the next 10 years, economists say solar power could become India’s cheapest source of energy. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, on a rooftop in Mumbai.

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