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World’s Biggest Off Grid Solar Market Blooms in India’s poorest State, as Solar Panels become a Dowry Gift

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Solar Panels As Dowry

The best way to see if a durable appliance is becoming a part of common household item in India is to check whether it is being given as part of the dowry when a father marries off his daughter. By that yardstick cheap crystalline solar panels in India have become a common household item as families are gifting their daughters’ small solar panels which will help power their new houses with lights and fans during the pervasive power black outs. Note India suffers from a huge power deficit as corruption and wastage ensures that large parts of rural India remains entirely in the dark. There are also large swathes where the Indian electricity grid does not reach. These parts of India are powered by diesel and kerosene powered lamps and fans. These are now being replaced by super cheap solar panels which sell for around $1-2/watt depending on whether it’s a genuine brand from companies like Luminous, Tata Solar Power Systems or a sub standard knockoff .

Note the world’s largest off grid market is now the Exhibition Road market in Bihar which is one of India’s most backward and poor states. The market has been created by free market economics as the Indian Government gives subsidies almost entirely for the grid connected large solar farms. The off grid solar market has been ignored by the wise Indian policy makers as large solar projects fail to get financial closure and cost hundreds of crores in subsidies (Read what India Solar Energy needs below). Note this new solar panel market is not without its problems as cheap and sub standard solar panels are winning marketshare from established quality solar panels brands. These solar panels are much cheaper as they provide much lesser wattage, have non-existent warranty and quality. However they manage to outsell as India is a highly price conscious market where the initial cost is a major decisive factor in buying.

What India’s Solar Energy needs

India is a massively energy deficient country with official figures citing around 15% of peak electricity demand deficit due to lack of power generation and distribution. The figures would be much higher if you add the thousands of villages which don’t have grid connectivity and access to power. Solar Energy in India is perfectly suited to fill a number of holes and the government has made a start by fixing an ambitious 22 GW solar capacity target by 2022 which rivals that of China. However the first phase of the JNNSM has mainly given subsidies and incentives to large megawatt solar installations which are to be ground mounted. This has seen huge competition leading to irrational bidding and many of these solar power plants in India might not see  the light of the day. Solar Power in India has huge potential given that the cost of solar have been declining rapidly with increasing scale and entry of the low cost Chinese solar panel producers. However for the potential of Solar Energy in India to be realized, policy making needs to be focused and clear on the objectives. Blindly following the Western models of solar subsidy like feed in tariffs and auction bidding might not help.

Solar Energy incentives in most of the developed solar markets in Europe have clearly shifted their preference to distributed small rooftop solar installations on residences. This is because it reduces the need for expensive power generation infrastructure, improves reliability and puts money in the hands of the common citizens. Spain, Germany and Italy which are the 3 biggest markets in the world have done this. India however has not paid any focus to rooftop solar installations except for Delhi. Electricity in India is not only expensive but also highly unreliable and of low quality. Low voltages and blackouts of 10 hours are not uncommon. Having a reliable home based source of power would be attractive to most people in India even at higher costs (note electricity tariffs have been outgrowing inflation). It would also lead to reduced losses in the power transmission which is the highest in the world at around 30%. The advantages of promoting residential solar is much more however the policymakers have not given enough thought with half of the subsidies going to Solar Thermal Technology which is fast losing out to Solar PV technology. India’s solar policy makes it clear that the decision makers do not have enough knowledge about the developments in this fast paced solar energy sector to make the optimum decisions.

Business Standard

Daily wager Bijendra Sao is fussing about at Exhibition Road in Patna to shop for his daughter’s dowry. The doting father wants the best that he can afford—a solar panel that can power two compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and a table fan. What better gift to give in a state that suffers perpetual power crisis. And what better place to shop for but the world’s biggest off-grid solar market that does an annual business of Rs 500 crore.

The state government, however, has shown little interest in encouraging solar energy and has never initiated a programme for rooftop off-grid solar power. In 2011, it formulated a renewable energy policy which approved 175 Mw grid-connected solar projects. But the policy has no clarity on off-grid solar. “This is why few entrepreneurs have shown interest,” says Harish K Ahuja of Moser Baer, solar panel manufacturer. No work has been initiated under the Centre’s Remote Village Electrification Programme which started in 2004. The programme promises its beneficiaries subsidised rooftop off-grid solar systems. “If government has a programme that promises subsidised solar equipment, people with low purchasing power will not have to buy underwatted equipment,” says Ahuja.

Solar market in Bihar is flooded with underwatted panels made in Hyderabad and Mumbai. “We tell companies what we need—cost, wattage and warranty years. We can choose the brand name. It could be your name, for instance,” says a dealer requesting anonymity.

Hyderabad-based Surana Ventures is one such company, he says. Incidentally, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has accredited Surana Ventures to make panels under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission.

Fifty per cent of the state’s solar market is captured by those who make inferior equipment. A retailer in Patna can sell 50 cheap panels even on a bad day. In the past five years, Tata BP’s monopoly over the solar market has dropped by almost 70 per cent, says Piyush Agrawal, dealer at Exhibition Road.

“Consumers are being openly duped. If they know that a 75 watt panel gives only 40 watt power, they will buy a good quality 40 watt panel at almost the same price, and it will even have warranty,” says Agrawal. “In villages, retailers push for underwatted panels because they get high profit margins,” says Amrendra Kumar, senior sales executive at Tapan Solar Energy Pvt Ltd, a Delhi-based solar manufacturer that sells equipment in Bihar.

Bad experiences with solar power can lead to the misconception that solar energy is faulty, fear some renewable energy experts. “This may affect its acceptance in the future,” worries Manish Ram, renewable energy analyst with non-profit Greenpeace India. It recently released a report that presents Bihar as a model state for decentralised renewable energy systems.


Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to

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