Solar Power Super Power

Here is an item of interest that I got from Reuben’s weblog.

Bajaj Auto’s 3-wheeler utility vehicles are about to be released in the US.

Now that is precious, ain’t it?

A number of interesting lessons can be drawn from that. First, and foremost, that Indian innovation is not something that can be easily dismissed. Indian firms can come up with solutions that have wide applicability. Second, that of learning by doing and the importance of a large domestic market for creating comparative advantage. Third, the need to think and act locally and then move to act globally.

Bajaj is good at making autorickshaws because it has learnt how to make them by supplying to the domestic market. The “learning by doing for a large domestic market” is a very important point. India is a very large market since India accounts for around one-sixth of the world’s population. Practically every need of developing countries is represented in India itself, whether they be transportation, agriculture, or telecommunications. So we have a very large canvass to try out our ingenuity on and learn from doing that. Having developed solutions, we are well on our way to developing comparative advantage in those areas.

Is there any specific area that India should develop a comparative advantage in? There is. And that is in the area of alternative energy. More specifically, solar technology.

The case for India to invest in R&D for solar technology is so plain that I find it incredible that everyone and his brother is not shouting about it. Consider the following facts. First, India is conventional fuel poor. We do not have oil and have to import a good portion of our current needs. We cannot afford to rely on the whims of foreign oil producers. There is one 800-lb gorilla in the oil market and it has cornered significant sources of the global oil market. So for strategic reasons, India must reduce its dependence on foreign oil to meet its energy needs.

Second, rich nations have the resources to pay (one way or another) for the oil they consume, India cannot. For instance, the US pays for oil by directly paying the producers and indirectly by maintaining a huge military and using force strategically.

India is blessed (?) with a lot of solar energy delivered free. The sun shines too hard most of the time and very few people are making hay.

Finally, any desired technology can be developed if you throw sufficient money at it. That is a basic fact of the modern world. Everything that is theoretically possible can be developed given sufficient commitment in terms of time, effort and resources.

It is my considered opinion that energy is the most fundamental of all resources. If one can get free energy (or even cheap energy), there is no problem that cannot be solved. Energy is a substitute for land and labor. Don’t have enough land to grow food? No problem — use hydroponics and grow you food in factories. Don’t have water to do that? De-salinate sea water using energy. Don’t have enough labor? Use machines. Where do you get machines? Make them using energy.

“You have problems?”
“Yes. Lots of them.”
“You have money?”
“Yes, by the truckloads.”
“You have no problems.”

Substitute ‘energy’ for ‘money’ in the above and there you have.

OK, we were discussing the need for cheap or nearly free energy. Solar power is the answer. India needs solar power. It has a very large market for cheap solar power. India should invest in developing solar power. If India invests say $10 billion, the return on investment would be mumble billion $. First, India would save on energy imports. Then India would develop comparative advantage (and perhaps competitive advantage) in the field. Thus India would be able to sell that technology to other countries. There is a first mover advantage in being the leader in this field. Fortunately, the US and other developing countries are not taking the development of alternative energy sources very seriously. So the field is not crowded and India has a tremendous advantage.

My policy recommendation is simple. Set up a national goal to make India the Solar Power SuperPower (SPSP) in the next 10 years. (Pres Kalam, are you there?) To achieve that goal, spend Rs 500 billion (approximately $11 billion) to get an R&D started at space travel speed using the best brains that exist anywhere in the world. Hire the best scientists and pay them so much that they would not consider working on anything else. Create programs in all the Indian research institutes and reward people with sacks of gold or whatever floats their boats to get them to devote all their talents to that one aim of making solar energy technology in India so good that we don’t have to import a single drop of oil and can tell our Arab friends to take a hike. Indeed, once the demand for oil falls, they would have to take a hike because they would not be able to afford cars.

Can it be done? You bet. All it needs is national will. Do we have leaders enlightened enough to create the needed national will? I am afraid not.

Is anyone listening? Or as they all too busy congratulating themselves about how India is an IT Superpower and singing Mera Bharat Mahan?

Author: Atanu Dey


79 thoughts on “Solar Power Super Power”

  1. You make a convincing case for the development of solar power. I wonder, however, if the problem will sort itself out with just money and brains. AIDS is a case in point. Every leading pharma company has put in billions in research money to develop a cure. They have succeeded in prolonging but not curing the disease.
    Fuel cells are another example. We have been hearing about how they are going to ‘transform the energy scenario’ a few years from now. I don’t think we are much closer to a consistent working model of the fuel cell.
    I think the additional ingredient required is urgency. When SARS struck last year, the race to find a cure resulted in nations across the world collaborating to see how they could control and cure the virus. When oil does really begin to run out, the search for a viable alternative will begin. As usual, at the last minute.


  2. Venu Gopal Nair makes interesting points. Indeed, money and commitment are not sufficient — urgency is also required.

    Fossil fuel, like all natural resources, will one day become more scarce as time goes by. As that happens, prices will rise. At some point, prices of alternate energy sources will become competitive and the market will deliver the solution. The existing alternative sources of energy are comparatively more expensive now for the major energy consumers but not for too long.

    India is a minor consumer of oil. We cannot afford to consume more. However we need to look ahead and plan for the future — indeed we may not have much of a future if we continue to attempt ape the West in their pattern of energy use.

    As far as I can tell, India’s continued growth and development requires an alternate source of energy. We need to wake up to that fact and invest in discover and development. Sure, we have to pay a high price. But if we don’t pay that price now, we will pay a much higher price and get a lot less in return. A parable that illustrates this point is the one by Douglas Adams called Sifting through the embers.


  3. Dear Sir or Madam:
    In response to your reply let me tell you about me. I am living in this country since 1970 and working for U.S. Department of Energy since 1983. I am involved in solar projects since 1994 and very active in DOE sponsored Million Solar Roofs program. The thin film solar panels ( a-Si,by solarex, CIS by Shell-siemans, Cd-Te by BP) will change the future of Solar Industry. I have been involved in 134 kW of solar installation for DOE on six different roofs and four different technologies including Poly-Si, CIS, Cd Te. The grass root movement I would like to promote for private organizations to commercialize the new thin film technology. The agencies like yours can promote and sponsor such movement, provide link with other foreign and domestic governments and make things happen. No funds are needed at this time but commitment to this activity by NRI groups is required and process to achieve that.
    This is a grassroot movement for every NRI in U.S.A who needs to:
    –Pledge one house in U.S.A. and/or one in India for installation of solar panels with Government held solar trust Bank.
    NRI groups need to sponsor and support this technology, which has
    potential to mitigate pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, expand access
    to electricity for rural population, farming, water pumping, and remote
    communication. NRI banks, motel association, professionals, and other organizations
    all need to participate in cost-effective production facilities, and for a global network.
    One million NRI, together can meet this new challenge, please visit to learn more about existing program in the U.S.
    Many NRI know that between 1975 to 1978 a “scooter scheme took place where NRI made deposit of $700 in U.S. and scooters were delivered in India. About 80,000 scooters were delivered. Well similar scheme may be instituted for Solar Panels.
    This support will be monumental in aggregating and creating a large-scale energy switch
    to solar energy. We are looking for organizations, government agencies and individuals to contribute to this revolutionary grassroot movement for its success to manufacture, distribute, install and operate solar electricity generation system.

    Krishna Shah “”

    CC:Mr. K.V.Doshi, Dy.Director
    Gujarat Energy Development Agency,
    2nd Floor Suraj Plaza-II, Sayajigunj,
    Vadodara – 390 005

    Mr. Ashok Narayan
    Principal Secretary,
    Rural Development Dept.


  4. I usually go through your articles which are quite informative and educating. Somehow I would like to know about the advancement in the field of solar refrigerators and their cost in the Indian market.Also could you give me some good sites where I could get information


  5. i think what you say is true. but the public participation is important. noone is ready to come out of the blocks and stand up for it. everyone is behind the white collar job.
    we can start creating awareness by starting groups in mails or forwards to people with stastical data to support our claim.
    Appreciate you for your effort. India needs people like you. you have the vision, just take it as your mission and start.


  6. hi!! this is rose doin MBA in Kerala.Am doing a project WITH TATA BP SOLAR.I would like to get details regarding the existing maket scenario in Karnataka as well as in Bangalore as it is the solar capital of India.Reply soon.Thank you.


  7. nowadays the government is focussing on renewable energy the fossil fuels are fast depleting the world is concentrating in harnessing wind ,solar,biomass energy.hydrogen is going to be the fuel of the fuel cells are now being used to generate wonder renewable energy is going to dominate the near future


  8. Am highly impressed with your vission of SPSP.In fact , in my last visit to Kolkata last week , I have worked on puting up a solar panel production fecility there.

    we have the will , people , money[to a certain extent].

    I have a point to clarify :

    I am advised to go for silicon cell technolgy . But the effeciancy is very low[15% max] and availability of these cells is a problem.

    I understand there are other technology researches like a-Si, CIS by leading multinationals [ re: comment from Krishan Shah]. Is our investment secured with Silicon cell panels or it will be replaced very soon ?

    Sincerely awaiting comment,

    Suvra Chakarborty
    kiev , Ukraine


  9. namaskar,
    As i am a social worker we work in remote area’s of MP please give me proper information about solar systems mail me as soon as possible who many plate we require to use water pump for irrgation purpose.
    ur’s brotherly


  10. We are starting a pilot project in southern africa in the hope to communicate with solar providers from india- we hope to purchase cheap yet reliable lighting powered by solar.
    shawn israels


  11. We are whole sale dealers of solar panels in Southern India. Though ours is a commercial venture, I have to say that our motivation is to make India, energy sufficient.

    Mr Israels and if anybody else have any questions with the prices of solar panels, batteries, solar water heaters etc, please feel free to contact me directly. I will be more than happy to be of help.

    I join you all and hope the Atanu dey’s wish comes through for India.


  12. now days oil price increase very high, so for development and growth of india we require another source. we have highest solar power if we use and implement solar technology in every area then of course india will become super power


  13. Hi
    What you are talking about is THE NEED, tho wishful thinking at the moment. What about translating it to ground reality?

    Any framework guys could work on?

    Surely there is a way out. I have heard of Govenment programs on solar energy.some Akshay Urja shops and all.

    Any site(s) a person could visit and glean maximum data-including government programs, schemes, et al?


  14. Nice to read these comments. Perhaps the best way is ensure more and more people use solar energy is to inform them about the availability and utility of the products. I was just viewing the tata bp solar. com site , unfortunately it does not list the prices of the products being offered. Moreover it lists out its costumers from all over the country but does not list their telehone numbers or contact details. So despite all the interest one can never actually use solar powered equipment.


  15. I am having a 1300sq feet single story house. My family members are 5. Advise me on choosing a right solar power system, its cost and suppliers.The locality of my house is having ample sunshine almost round the year.


  16. quite inspired by the talk of the gentlemen here , moreover by the thoughts of 2007-2008 budget showering incentives for this industry , it will be kind of you sir if u can enlighten me where can i resource if i want to set up a solar panel installation plant.
    thanking you for the same


  17. I would like to manufacture solar panels for rural areas. From where I can get knowhow about product. kindly give me address of reputed dealer for solar cells and products.


  18. I am interested in knowing the details about Solar panels for generating electricity for domestic use in Apartment bldgs, installation, initial costs, selling excess electricity generated, etc.


  19. I am interested in knowing the details about Solar panels for generating electricity for domestic use in Apartment bldgs, installation, initial costs, selling excess electricity generated, etc.


  20. Hi
    I see lots of ques regarding solar.
    Regaring solar tech, you can find and more answers on our web site

    Our comapany will try to provide what a consumer wants and try to bring the solar-power in people’s reach.

    Also for business you don’t have to circile govt. offices to get a power connection.


  21. Hi
    I am interested in the viability of using solar energy for common lighting, water pumping energy requirements in our apartment.
    Please share the details like type of solar cell, its availability in India, number of cells required/kw, area required, cost of the cell, installation cost etc. if somebody have it.
    Thank you all in anticipation.


  22. I have a few queries.
    1. are solar panels available in Mumbai?
    2. are there any drawbacks in using solar panels vis-a-vis inverters (mantainence, cost, risk to breakage etc)?
    Can I run an 1 ton Air conditioner on Solar panel



  23. Dear Sir

    I want to set up a solar power system at my farm house which is bit out of the way with no electricity facilities available near by. Please let me know the cost for producing power of about 1 to 2 KW and also send addressess where I can make contact to buy the required materials. Also please let me into sites where I can find free info abouit solar power to educate myself. Thank You

    Guwahati, Assam


  24. I am working for a Telecom company, I want to know the details of equipment, which can be installed at the site to convert solar energy into electrical energy for the rural areas.

    Kindly help & send the information.
    Load requirement at the site is 15 KW.

    Thanks & regards
    Manoj Yadav
    +91 9812013136.


  25. I love solar power I think over the next few years it’s going to be exploding even more… as performance of solar panels goes up people are going to be adopting it everywhere they can… after all it’s free energy 🙂 BTW here is more solar power information -> Solar Power


  26. i am a student of i m in delhi. i will be construct my hose next diwali. i want to inplant solar system for my home. i want to use solar power for light & fan. i wnt to use only sun power for my home. so please give me detail about this. and also want to know that any where is energy saving centre of gov. of india situated in delhi.
    thanx a lot


  27. Actually there is no pleblem in producing solar based Energy in large quantities if the state electricity boards buy the surplus energy from the private households and other producers of solar energy and supply them guaranteed needed energy during the night period.In this way lot of money can be saved .


  28. How can we get the solar panel for electricity in cheap rates and from where also can it be possible for us that we can make it our self.


  29. Dear Sir,
    I’m thinking of buying a solar panel system for my house. I wanted to know that how much is it going to cost me, and from where can i buy this product in Delhi and punjab.



  30. i want to inplant solar system for my office at indore. i want to use solar power for light & fan. the area is only 100 sq ft. how much will it cost?? please reply


  31. i want to make revolution in india with solar energy. in next 10 years that is my commitments.

    i will change the energy segment of india.
    i am going to install mega project on solar energy.

    architect- vijaykumar


  32. “Triace, a well established company with more than two decades of experience & presence in over 53 countries worldwide is a player with High End Expertise in developing Solar Solutions. Thru the course of providing Solar Electric Lighting Systems to government and military clients, as well as the private sector, we found that these small pole or ground mounted Solar Electric Power Assemblies could be designed to supply power for any type of application where it is cost prohibitive to provide a utility grid extension or to operate a generator. Triace’s Solar Electric Power Assemblies provide power on a 24/7 basis at any voltage or current required.
    Triace’s Solar Electric Power Assemblies are used for applications such as:
    Communications; SCADA; Oil, Gas, or Water Flow Meters; DATA Acquisition; Cameras; Remote Security; Receiver/Transmitter Units; Stand-By Power; and Industrial, Commercial, Military and Government Operational Applications, Significant installations are Flow meter and Water Level Monitoring, Remote Camera Power Systems and Over height Detection System.

    Triace’s current range of solutions also includes solar-powered systems to operate:
    Solar Illumination System for Billboards / Hoardings, Solar Advertisement Lighting (both Backlit / Frontlit), Solar Bus Shelter Advertisement Panel Illumination Systems, Solar Signage’s, Solar Greeting Signs & Illumination Solutions, Solar Powered Advanced Security Systems, Solar On Grid & Off Grid (Solar Grid Interactive) Systems, Solar Decorative Lighting / Solar Novelties, Solar Back-up / Power Solutions for Telecom Operators, Solar Solutions for Oil & Natural Gas Companies, Solar Water Pumps & Water Pumping Solutions, Solar Water Heating Systems, Solar Dryers.”

    We at Triace also design & develop products as per your custom requirements for all & any kind of needs / purposes.
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  33. I am here in Bangalore. I would like to know the cost of Tata company solar panels. Actually I want to send them to my remote village where there is not electricity. It is mainly for lighting. Are the solar panels avialable in Bangalore? Where can I have catalogue for Tata solar panels?


  34. I am an NRI relocating to Indore India. The place has ample sunshine and to my mind an apt city to start using solar power. I would like to do it myself. But I am neither able to find a supplier close by nor find an estimate of the cost of elecrifying the normal household gadgets with solar power. Can any one help me? I will appreciate a mail at my address


  35. We talk of grassroot participation in solar energy programmes.howhever the information about these products their
    cost, availibility and other technical details are not easily available.I am sure
    that many indivisuals or institutions will be willing to consider installation of such equipments due to increasing cost of enery and unreliable supplies.Unless information is made easily available such participation will not be possible.I am myself searching for a reliable home solar energy sys equivalent to an inverter and i find several querries on this site of similar nature.


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