India has flipped the switch on a plan to build the world’s largest solar power plant.
Spread across more than 23,000 acres, the project will have an operating capacity of 4,000-megawatts (roughly the energy-output capacity of four full-size nuclear reactors) and reduce India’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 4 million tons.
The facility will dwarf the second-largest solar photovoltaic plant in the world, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which will have a 550-megawatt capacity when completed later this year.
The new project is part of a larger initiative of the Indian government to make the price of solar more competitive with coal. Up to 115,000 people die each year from coal-fired power plant pollution in India, costing the country $4.6 billion, according to a 2013 report by the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust.
But don’t expect opening day to come anytime soon. It will take at least seven years to construct the mega-plant. And India will have to pay to play: The price tag on the operation is $4.4 billion.
Industry experts also noted that simply because the project was announced doesn’t mean it will be completed as intended.
“As is the case in all major construction, not every solar plant with a blueprint and a press release will be built,” said Robert Liford, a Washington, D.C.–based energy consultant for companies specializing in renewable energy. “Many are delayed or scrapped due to problems with suppliers, financiers, or regulators.” In 2013, for example, a Chinese-backed solar energy project planned for Nevada was nixed after company officials couldn’t find utilities that wanted to buy its power.
In the U.S., demand for clean solar energy has risen dramatically. In 2012, when the U.S. solar market grew 76 percent compared with 2011, sixteen million solar panels were installed across the country.
“This industry is growing big-time. Not just in manufacturing but in components and installation and service,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, a policy firm for clean energy users and companies. “And that’s what makes it very exciting.”
The three factors driving the growth of solar in the U.S., according to Sklar, are tax credits for home owners and businesses, federal investment in energy-efficient buildings, and state-level policy initiatives that encourage new opportunities for solar development.
But coal still supplies nearly half of U.S. electricity—and as much as 80 or 90 percent in states such as Ohio and Kentucky.
This is in spite of the fact that just 20 days of sunshine contain more energy than the world’s entire supply of coal, oil, and natural gas combined.