India's solar plan moves ahead

INDIA - The draft of India's ambitious National Solar Mission plan, aimed at reducing emissions and easing the country's crippling power shortages, was endorsed in principle by the prime minister's Council on Climate Change, Press Trust of India reports.

India, the world's fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, would reduce its reliance on dirty coal under the plan. India's solar power generating capacity would jump from its current near-zero level to 20 gigawatts by 2020, to 100 gigawatts by 2030 and 200 gigawatts by 2050.

India's crippling power shortage represents one of the largest obstacles to economic growth, leaving some 400 million Indians without electricity amid daily blackouts. According to India's Power Ministry, electricity demand outstripped supply by 13.8 percent during peak hours in 2008-2009.

Under the draft plan, the cost of solar power would be reduced to the same level as fossil fuels.

India has abundant supplies of coal but relies on imports for 70 percent of its crude oil and 50 percent of its gas.

The three-phase National Solar Mission "would be the most ambitious solar plan that any country has laid out so far," said Siddharth Pathak, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace India, The New York Times reported in June.

Under the plan, India would spend $18.5 billion to $22.8 billion over a 30-year period, to be financed in part by taxes on government-subsidized gasoline and diesel.

According to the draft plan, the objective of Phase I (2009-2012), for example, "will be to achieve rapid scale up to drive down costs, to spur domestic manufacturing and to validate the technological and economic viability of different solar applications."

India's target is 1 million rooftop solar energy systems and solar lighting for 20 million households by 2020. The plan would involve micro-financing initiatives, including a payback system for surplus solar power fed back into the grid.

The National Solar Mission plan calls for India to invest $23 billion for developing, manufacturing and installing solar technology over the next 30 years.

India has the potential to reduce its emissions by almost 60 million tons a year under the plan and save approximately 1.05 billion liters of diesel, a billion liters of kerosene and 350 million liters of fuel oil each year by 2020.

"India's putting a very strong argument in front of developed countries that it has huge potential for renewable energy," said Pathak of Greenpeace, the Times of London reported.


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