India's Solar Power Passes 1 Gigawatt Mark, As Nation Has Worst Blackout in Past Decade

Lindsay Silveira/CC BY-ND 2.0

Some serendipitous news from India: Just as the nation passes a solid milestone for solar power, the power grid fails across a huge swath of the northern part of the nation, leaving 370 million people without power.

In case you're not up on your population stats, that's more people than the US and Canada combined who were without electricity (those who had it to start, energy poverty being what it is in India, with one-third of the population without electricity).

Across the states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, as well as in the capital Delhi, places without backup generators (which are common in wealthier areas, large businesses and hospitals) had no electricity for up to 15 hours today, beginning from 2:30am.

India's electricity infrastructure, both for generation and distribution, trails demand by a wide margin. Even in major cities daily rolling power cuts are commonplace for a few hours a day, with smaller cities and towns sometimes facing half the day with power.

Washington Post highlights just one of the problems: In some states electricity and transmission and distribution losses are as high as 50%, due to theft of electricity and employee corruption.

The last time there was a grid failure such as this was 2001.

Which brings us to part of the solution—at least the power generation part of it, if not so much the distribution part.

PV Magazine reports that the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy says that as of the end of June, the nation passed the 1 GW mark for grid-tied solar power. 65% of India's 1.03 GW of solar power is in the southwestern state of Gujarat.

This milestone was passed earlier than expected, as the MNRE set a target of having 800 MW of solar power by the end of this year. By this time next year, it's expected that almost an additional 598 MW of solar power will be commissioned.

Despite the temporary inconvenience of the blackout, the massive infrastructure challenges it results from are really an opportunity for eco-friendlier change—as Katie Fehrenbacher rightly points out over at Gigaom:

While this is a huge problem for the country, it’s a massive opportunity for next-generation energy technologies like clean power, and the smart grid. Unlike in the US, where clean power and smart grid technologies are often times replacing current infrastructure, in India many times they are the first build-out of energy infrastructure.

I, and others, have said this before. At an industry event last year, investor Ira Ehrenpreis (who backed such investments like Tesla) said it’s the worst time to be in greentech in the U.S. and the best time to be in greentech in many countries outside the US.

Tags: Electricity | India | Renewable Energy | Solar Power