India needs to focus on Solar Power

Atany Dey explains why India should develop a comparative advantage in solar technology:

The case for India to invest in R&D for solar technology is so plain that I find it incredible that everyone and his brother is not shouting about it. Consider the following facts. First, India is conventional fuel poor. We do not have oil and have to import a good portion of our current needs. We cannot afford to rely on the whims of foreign oil producers. There is one 800-lb gorilla in the oil market and it has cornered significant sources of the global oil market. So for strategic reasons, India must reduce its dependence on foreign oil to meet its energy needs.

Second, rich nations have the resources to pay (one way or another) for the oil they consume, India cannot. For instance, the US pays for oil by directly paying the producers and indirectly by maintaining a huge military and using force strategically.

India is blessed (?) with a lot of solar energy delivered free. The sun shines too hard most of the time and very few people are making hay.

Finally, any desired technology can be developed if you throw sufficient money at it. That is a basic fact of the modern world. Everything that is theoretically possible can be developed given sufficiet commitment in terms of time, effort and resources.

India needs solar power. It has a very large market for cheap solar power. India should invest in developing solar power. If India invests say $10 billion, the return on investment would be mumble billion $. First, India would save on energy imports. Then India would develop comparative advantage (and perhaps competitive advantage) in the field. Thus India would be able to sell that technology to other countries. There is a first mover advantage in being the leader in this field. Fortunately, the US and other developing countries are not taking the development of alternative energy sources very seriously. So the field is not crowded and India has a tremendous advantage.

My policy recommendation is simple. Set up a national goal to make India the Solar Power SuperPower (SPSP) in the next 10 years. (Pres Kalam, are you there?) To achieve that goal, spend Rs 500 billion (approximately $11 billion) to get an R&D started at space travel speed using the best brains that exist anywhere in the world. Hire the best scientists and pay them so much that they would not consider working on anything else. Create programs in all the Indian research institutes and reward people with sacks of gold or whatever floats their boats to get them to devote all their talents to that one aim of making solar energy technology in India so good that we don’t have to import a single drop of oil and can tell our Arab friends to take a hike. Indeed, once the demand for oil falls, they would have to take a hike because they would not be able to afford cars.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.