In 1839, a 19-year-old Edmond Becquerel was working in his father’s laboratory when he made the discovery that was going to transform the way humankind produced energy. He put Silver Chloride connected to platinum electrodes in acidic solution and illuminated it by light. He observed that illumination generated voltage and current across the electrodes, a phenomenon called photovoltaic effect, also known as Becquerel effect in his honor. His work was to become the foundation of the Solar PV panels.
His discovery was not practical for even medium scale generation of power. It was over a century later in 1941 when Russel Ohl invented the first solar cell. Fast forward to 21st century, Solar PV System has begun conquering the world. Many factors and events converged together to bring such powerful paradigm shift in Energy industry, especially in India which was not imaginable years ago.
After World War II, the world went through tremendous industrialization phase. This industrial growth was fueled by consumption of oil. In the 1970s, oil-producing countries blocked the supply of crude oil due to middle eastern conflict. This led to high inflation in fuel importing nations like India. The period known as the stagflation period jolted the currencies across the world with energy independence becoming a major subject of discussion. Meantime, as fossil fuel consumption grew, its impact on environment became visible as acid rain and rising sea level. To tackle the growing menace an international treaty: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into force in 1994 which provided the framework for future treaties and agreements with the objective of stabilizing greenhouse gases, the root cause of climate change.
The Indian Saga
As India looked to replace the dirtiest fossil fuel coal by renewable sources, Solar and Wind energy took the lead due to their low negative externalities. And even among them, solar is most popular in the Indian context. This is because India has a clear sky for 300 days a year and being a tropical country, get an extensive amount of sunlight. In fact, electricity production per kilowatt solar installation is the highest in India compared to any other country in the world. And unlike other resources, renewables don’t lead to ‘resource curse’ as it makes the economy more productive, self-reliant and more resilient to energy price fluctuations.
Solar- The optimal renewable
Solar PV System are the greenest form of renewable since it does not emit carbon dioxide and the PV panels are made mostly of silicon which is a very abundant mineral on earth. The only carbon footprint made by a solar power plant is due to emission during the production of the panels which is quite low compared to other energy sources (22-46g greenhouse emission per kWh in solar power plant vs 915–994 g/kWh in coal power plant.)
The panacea to climate change and Indian energy demand
The solar movement began by large solar parks and now Solar PV plants are making the headway. Individual Solar PV plant which had been shadowed by solar parks is now looking more attractive as it doesn’t require large tracts of land. There has been a tectonic shift in Home solar system installation internationally and the seismic waves of that shift have now reached India.
Solar rooftop systems allow households to produce their own electricity which not only helps them to reduce power bill but also get reliable power. Solar Panels are not expensive like it was years ago, and it has become very economical for households to install such systems as they get breakeven in just a few years. Roofs of every house, building and railway station is now a potential site of solar power plant. With government financing a third of installation cost for residential homes, the Home Solar option has become attractive like never before. Today, the economic and the noble option have concurred like never in history.