Solar energy in India now has the potential to become a viable alternative to fossil fuels, according to a report by manufacturer and developer, Tata Power Solar, and solar analyst, Bridge to India.

The report estimates that up to 145GW of solar – or 13% of India’s energy generation – can be deployed in the next ten years as solar becomes increasingly competitive with expensive fossil fuels and as long as the country follows the most appropriate strategies.

The report, ‘How should India drive its solar transformation? Beehives or Elephants’, analyses the pros and cons of mega-utility, to commercial and residential rooftop solar generation, aiming to identify the best route for solar deployment in India.

It compared four scenarios for India’s solar future, driven by ultra-mega projects – solar ‘elephants’ – utility scale projects – ‘horses’ - large rooftops – ‘pigeons’ – or residential rooftops – solar bees.

Across the different types of systems, the report said the realisable capacity over the next 10 years was 100 to 145GW.

The report said the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for imported coal is now level with large-scale solar generation in India.

Comparing different scenarios for various sizes of solar installations across India, the report also predicts solar prices will drop a further 4% by 2024, while coal imports are expected to rise by 12%, and domestic coal prices are to increase by 7%.

Solar will achieve parity with domestic coal in 2019, and storage technology will be cost competitive with imported coal by 2017.

The report also proposed looking at the ‘landed cost of power’ – or LCOP – as opposed to LCOE to better judge the prices preferred by energy customers. This measures the cost at the point of consumption, as well as generation, to factor in grid balancing and upgrading costs, to smart meters and theft.

The estimated difference between LCOE and LCOP is as high as INR2 per kWh for utility solar and INR0.2 for rooftop. 

Utility-scale solar already has an average price of INR6.6 per kWh, and a landed cost of INR8.4 per kWh – level with imported coal.

Rooftop solar is best in terms of costs in the long term, according to the report, with a levelised generation cost of INR6.6 per kWh and a landed cost of INR6.7 per kWh, by 2024.

Smaller systems will also create more jobs, the report concludes.

Tobias Engelmeier, managing director of Bridge to India, said for smaller rooftop systems, there is more work needed in “creating a market, which relies on reliable policies, like net metering, or creating consumer finance options”.

Engelmeier said larger scale solar projects had been easier to execute because the government can provide support directly. But for the small-scale market, a more long-term, sustainable market, “the government needs to create the right ecosystem for it”, he added.

An ecosystem can be created “through having more professional sales structures, installation companies and financing mechanisms”. This development would allow for cost reductions in the rooftop sector, he said.

Ajay Goel, CEO of Tata Power Solar, said he hoped the report would “trigger a robust dialogue on the subject.”