Photovoltaics were first discussed in the country’s third five-year plan (1961-66), a time when the young republic wanted an indigenous solar sector to meet developmental imperatives like rural electrification.
That beginning, which could have seen India export solar technologies to the third world, went nowhere. India’s next two five-year plans (1969-78) ignored solar and focused on hydel, tidal and geothermal energy. Solar reappeared in the 6th five-year plan (1980-85). In the years that followed, the country created an indigenous solar manufacturing sector as well as developmental technologies like solar cookers, pumps and electrification.
The country was in step with the rest of world. Globally, attempts to commercialise solar photovoltaics had started in the 1950s and 1960s – and accelerated further during the 1970s’ oil crisis. By 1995, solar R&D was being driven by the US, Germany, Japan and Australia. India was one of the countries where manufacturing had started – courtesy firms like Premier Energies.
China lagged far behind. In 2006, when China’s first solar installation – a 1MW project atop six buildings in Shenzhen – came up, India had about 40 solar manufacturers and an installed manufacturing capacity of 4,000 MW.
That beginning too, however, went nowhere. China entered solar panel manufacturing. At a time when different firms made polysilicon, ingots, modules, wafers and cells, it set up integrated manufacturing complexes. Set up at large scale and subsidised by the government, these drove photovoltaic prices so low other countries couldn’t compete. European solar manufacturing died. So did Indian firms like Moser Baer.”
Instead of supplying solar panels to the world, India became an importer.
Can India reverse these declines? Starting yesterday, my latest reporting series for CarbonCopy. On the three big departures of India’s Production-Linked Incentive scheme from the past — disability cost, sectoral champions, and a focus on localising entire value chains — and if they can make India a manufacturing alternative to China + put the country at the forefront of emergent sectors like semiconductors, polysilicon, and advanced chemical batteries.