• 12.04.15

India’s Solar Ambitions Are Big, But So Are Its Ambitions For Coal

Is a new commitment to clean energy enough to power an entire country out of poverty?

India’s Solar Ambitions Are Big, But So Are Its Ambitions For Coal
[Top Photo: f11photo via Shutterstock]

“1,000 billion U.S. Dollars” ($1 trillion). That’s how much the International Solar Alliance says it needs for a “massive deployment” of solar power around the world. We don’t know exactly how big that deployment might be, but this week 121 sun-rich countries signed on to the planning document, showing, at least, that they see massive potential in solar.


The initiative is led by India, which is putting up $30 million to headquarter the new organization. “We want to bring solar energy into our lives and homes by making it cheaper, more reliable and easier to connect to grid,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Paris. “Today, when the energy sources of our industrial age have put our planet in peril, the world must turn to the Sun to power our future.”

The International Solar Alliance is hoping to raise $400 million in membership fees and support from international agencies. And, by sharing technology and expertise, the countries hope to bring down the cost of finance. “Reduced cost of finance would enable us to undertake more ambitious solar energy programs to bring development and prosperity for our people,” says the group’s statement. Areva, Engie, Enel, HSBC France, and Tata Steel are just some of the companies involved.

India wants to generate 100 gigawatts of power from solar by 2022, enough for 75 million Indian households. Which would be a gigantic jump from where it is now: about 5 GW. Solar is already helping to wire up off-grid communities, particularly through micro-grids that mix solar solar with other sources, like biogas generators.

But that doesn’t mean solar can fix India’s climate change contribution. The problem with India is that its need for energy is so enormous. At the same time as building thousands of kilowatts of solar, it’s also building hundreds of coal-fired power stations, and planning to more than double coal production by 2020. By 2030, its carbon emissions are expected to grow two to three times, such is the enormous pent-up demand.

Unless solar can scale up really, really fast, coal will have to take its place in India. Which is bad for the rest of us–it makes dealing with climate change more difficult. But, then, how can you disregard the needs of 240 million people? India needs a “all-of-the-above strategy,” even if other countries don’t.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.