India’s Bold Solar Commitment Is Attainable, Says Stanford Study

Reach for the Sun: How India’s Audacious Solar Ambitions Could Make or Break its Climate Commitments 2
A woman installs off-grid solar in Tinginaput, India. A report from the Steyer-Taylor Center urges the international community to back India’s efforts to accelerate adoption of solar power. Photo courtesy of the U.K. Department for International Development.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unprecedented commitment to large-scale solar deployment is highly ambitious but achievable, provided there is strong domestic policy support and international investment, according to a study released December 8 by Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

Prime Minister Modi’s pledge to deploy 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 is equivalent to more than half the world’s total installed solar capacity as of 2014. It is the largest piece of India’s carbon reduction plan that the prime minister reaffirmed on November 30 at the international climate change conference under way in Paris.

According to the report, success in solar could change the economics of India’s increasing reliance on coal.  “Achieving India’s solar and other renewable energy goals would involve a major transformation of its energy sector, empowering the nation to begin decoupling its rapid economic growth from its rising carbon emissions,” said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center at Stanford University and interim president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy. “That would be a huge accomplishment for a nation that is currently on a path to overtake China and the U.S. as the world’s largest carbon emitter.”

The study, “Reach for the Sun: How India’s Audacious Solar Ambitions Could Make or Break Its Climate Commitments,” found that India’s success in reaching its solar commitment would depend on three factors:

  • India would need to ramp up three very different types of solar: utility-scale solar farms; distributed solar systems such as panels on urban homes and businesses; and rural solar projects independent of electrical grids.
  • Solar power would need to deliver an array of domestic benefits that would build significant political support and investment. Benefits include improving power reliability, expanding access to electricity, cutting air pollution and decreasing energy imports.
  • There would need to be solar-friendly policy reforms by Indian federal and state governments, along with financial, technical and policy support from governments, investors and organizations around the world.

“Increasing the availability and reliability of energy is imperative for India, which has the lowest per capita energy consumption of the world’s top 10 carbon emitters. But simply more solar is not a silver bullet. Only a diversified solar portfolio can secure all of the benefits that Prime Minister Modi’s administration has promised from its reach for the sun,” said Varun Sivaram, the Douglas Dillon fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, a strategic adviser on energy innovation to the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and lead author of the report.

“Barriers remain, especially related to financing,” added Gireesh Shrimali, a fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center and director of the Climate Policy Initiative, India. “A top priority must be increasing the availability of lower-cost financing so that India’s naturally abundant sunlight and low installation costs can make solar more affordable in India. Changes in India’s domestic policy can help expand lower-cost financing from a wide range of domestic and foreign investors, while international development banks can provide additional financial assistance.”

Reach for the Sun” was co-authored by Varun Sivaram, Gireesh Shrimali and Dan Reicher. The Steyer-Taylor Center is a joint initiative of Stanford Law School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.