India’s current electricity generation is in the order of 160,000 MW. However, India’s Planning Commission considers that, in order to meet the energy needs of the country whilst maintaining a GDP growth of 8% per year, it will need to increase its electricity generation capacity by nearly six fold in the next 20 years: 950,000 MW!!
It is within this context that we need to understand India’s Solar Mission. Launched in 2009 within the framework of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, the Mission aims for the deployment of 20,000 MW of solar power by 2022 (to give some context to those of you in the UK, the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station has a capacity of 2,000 MW, beyond the electricity consumption of Ghana). The Mission’s emphasis is on large scale grid connected solar power, solar thermal generation and solar manufacturing capabilities. When looking at the approximately current 200MW of solar energy in India today, the 20,000 MW target by 2022 sounds positively ambitious. But it dwarfs next to the additional 890,000 MW that would be required in 2032 to meet the country’s growth demands.
This is also the broad energy context that frames my current exploration of the mechanisms that Thane City, in the outskirts of Mumbai, is using to become a ‘Solar City’. Thane is one of 60 Indian cities that have subscribed to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) program ‘India Solar Cities’. The city passed a policy that makes it mandatory for new buildings to install solar hot water systems, is implementing a ‘Solar City Cell’ to promote public awareness on solar/renewable technologies and energy efficiency, and has several pilot projects such as the installation of PVs in the roof of the Municipal Corporation. But at the same time, it is receiving large amounts of urban growth coming from Mumbai, dramatically increasing the city’s energy needs. Thane often looks like a city in construction, with several dozens of towers spiralling up the sky. These towers, their luxury apartments and shopping malls maintained by air conditioners, are for the new middle classes of India: a vivid example of the rapid changing consumption patterns of urban India.
If India’s Solar Mission dwarfs in comparison to the medium-term energy needs of the country, the Solar Cities Program itself (with its emphases on small-scale decentralized and off-grid domestic technologies) dwarfs next to the ambitious targets of the Solar Mission. However, in the context of India’s rapid urban growth, the Solar Cities Program becomes more relevant as it points out to a new ‘practice of energy production’. A practice where the citizen is involved through awareness and ownership of generation equipment. For India, the challenge is not climate change mitigation, but the energy intensity of its growing economy. But this might be only half of the puzzle. It seems that India is in urgent need to look not only at new practices of energy production, but most importantly, its ‘practices of energy consumption’. Stay tuned!