The fact that India installed upwards of 10 GW of solar power capacity in the first quarter of the calendar year 2024 is truly remarkable. Admittedly, the record-breaking achievement is partly due to delayed projects attaining fruition during the quarter; nevertheless, it is an accomplishment of note. About 96 per cent of the installations were large, ground-mounted projects, which clearly shows where the action and economics lie. Considering that India’s solar journey began only in 2011, this is a noteworthy achievement.

With the addition of 10 GW, total solar power installations in India stand at a little over 82 GW. Add to this the fact that 143 GW are in the pipeline and another 93 GW tendered out, it would seem that solar installations have acquired a new momentum. Not too long ago, 10 GW of installation in one full year was great news. It is, however, possible to argue that there is a less flattering story behind these numbers. The achievement of 82 GW and the better run-rate of installations in recent years is truly a function of falling module prices in the global market. Global module prices have fallen from about a dollar a watt-peak around 2010 to about 14 cents now due to the massive expansion in China, leading to a glut and plummeting prices. When the solar movement started in India nearly a decade and a half ago, with the launch of the National Solar Mission, no one would have believed that module prices would fall so steeply. That said, credit is also due to the government for harnessing the situation, with policy measures such as renewable purchase obligations (RPO) and aggregating demand by having government-owned entities to tender out bulk capacities.

It is also rightly pointed out that India missed the 2022 target of 100 GW mainly because the rooftop solar segment which was to contribute 40 GW was a laggard. The bottlenecks here may come under control now, particularly with the launch of the rooftop solar mission earlier this calendar year. India is fast cruising towards the 100 GW capacity mark. If solar installation continues at the latest rate of 40-50 GW per year for the next six years, India can meet its international commitment of installing 500 GW of renewable energy capacity, including large hydel projects, by 2030. The total capacity in this respect at present is a little under 200 GW.

Yet there are a few disturbing trends. At a large-scale level, solar installations are concentrated in two States – Rajasthan, Gujarat (and to an extent, Karnataka). This means huge spends on transmission. Availability of land in these States has contributed to this concentration. But the government should ensure that utility solar is better dispersed through well-directed incentives. At a small-scale level, solar access should be decentralised through community solar, microgrids and rooftops so that energy is generated where it is consumed. There are signs that this segment is picking up.