The biggest solar parks in the world are now being built in India
PAVAGADA, India — Weeds poke listlessly from the flat, rocky earth as the temperature climbs to the mid-90s. On a cloudless March afternoon, the blue horizon stretches out uninterrupted, as if even birds are too weary to fly.
On this unforgiving patch of southern India, millions of silver-gray panels glimmer in the sun, the start of what officials say will be the biggest solar power station in the world.
When completed, the Pavagada solar park is expected to produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 700,000 households — and the latest milestone in India’s transition to generating more green energy.
Long regarded as a laggard in the fight against climate change, India is building massive solar stations at a furious clip, helping to drive a global revolution in renewable energy and reduce its dependence on coal and other carbon-spewing fossil fuels blamed for warming the planet.
While the Trump administration abandons the Paris agreement on fighting climate change and pledges to revive the U.S. coal industry, India this month hosted the inaugural conference of the International Solar Alliance, an organization launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the aim of raising $1 trillion to promote solar generation and technology in 121 countries.
Thanks to low-cost solar panels and government incentives, India surged past Japan last year to become the world’s third-biggest market for solar power, after China and the United States. Modi has called for generating 100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022 — nearly 30 times what it had three years ago, and equivalent to the entire energy output of Spain.
"It’s pretty inspiring," said Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. "The U.S. and India have sort of swapped places, and Modi is now becoming a global statesman for renewable energy and solar."
India’s need for green energy is obvious. With an economy expanding at roughly 7 percent annually, and ambitions to bring electricity to hundreds of millions of people who still lack it, India must pump up solar and wind power dramatically in order to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement. Air pollution has worsened in its cities, partly because of emissions thrown up by old power plants.
Coal still accounts for 58 percent of India’s power, while wind provides 10 percent and solar 5 percent, according to government figures. India had created 20 gigawatts of solar power at the end of December, nearly doubling its capacity from a year earlier.
Three years ago, California could lay claim to the world’s biggest solar farm: the 579-megawatt Solar Star power station just north of Lancaster, in the Antelope Valley.
That station was soon eclipsed by a series of huge solar parks in China, the No. 1 producer of the photovoltaic panels that capture the sun’s radiation for conversion into energy.
India has approved plans for 14 solar parks larger than Solar Star. Most lie in India’s northern deserts and southern scrubland, where state and local authorities are racing to fulfill Modi’s agenda and foreign companies are vying for pieces of perhaps the last great solar market.
"The potential of solar power in India is huge," said Sanjay Aggarwal, managing director of the Indian office of Fortum, a Finnish energy company that is generating 100 megawatts at Pavagada.