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The solar opportunity

Can photovoltaic energy power India's industrial revolution?

In the 1960s, Japanese small cars were considered 'cheap' and driving around in a Toyota or Datsun (Nissan) in the streets of America was clearly down-market. The oil shock of 1970s changed everything. Japanese small cars suddenly turned cost-effective and the fact that they never broke down helped as well. Threeand-a-half decades later, Toyota ended 2008 as the world's largest car company.

The Japanese realisation that people might actually want cheap and cheerful cars powered the island nation to become one of the world's leading manufacturing economies. It was same with Taiwan and semi-conductor motherboards in the 1980s. So much so that today, close to 90 per cent of commercial computer motherboards sold in the world has a bit of Taiwan in it.

Can India provide the answers for the world's search for a cheap and easy accessible source of clean energy? If Moser Baer—the only Indian player to have attained a reasonable scale in this field—has its way, India will be at the forefront of photovoltaic manufacturing, thanks to the technology and skills that the company acquired while making optical storage media such as CDs and DVDs.

Ratul Puri, Executive Director, Moser Baer, believes that the biggest single factor that drove Japan and Taiwan was local demand, and in India where we suffer from a large scale power shortage every year, solar is a quick and distributed power solution. It is also green. Significantly, the cost of delivering solar power is dropping. Over the last two years, prices have come down 25 per cent to around Rs 10-12 a unit with new technologies.

This makes solar power a lot cheaper than diesel generators (Rs 15/unit) and almost as competitive as gas-fired power plants. "In another three, maybe five years at the most, solar power will be as competitive as domestic power," argues Puri. At that price, what is good for India will be welcomed by rest of the world.

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