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Transmission starts becoming a major hurdle in Solar expansion Globally

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Transmission Problems in Solar Energy

Solar power generation has grown at an exponential pace in the last few years and is still growing strongly, as prices have started to equal that of fossil fuels. Given the quick installation of a solar plant and the lack of any environmental or pollution issues, solar energy is becoming the most preferred choice of new power capacity. This trend is set to accelerate, as solar power prices keep dropping every year with advancements in technology and industry processes.

Chinese overcapacity is also helping the growth of solar energy worldwide with large Chinese solar manufactures shipping gigawatts of solar panels at low prices. The anti-dumping duties imposed by some countries on China has not dampened demand, as these companies have set up factories in new locations in Vietnam, Thailand etc. to overcome these duties.  With solar prices now ranging between 3-6 cents/kWh, solar power plants are becoming unstoppable.

Transmission Problem

However with the increasing scale of solar power, transmission issues have started to crop up for the new solar plants. Japan and China which are the world’s biggest and second biggest markets are already facing grid infrastructure issues. Evacuating solar power in these countries has become difficult, as solar power plants built in remote areas do not have the transmission capacity to be transported to the main demand centres which are located far away.


While rooftop solar power does not face such issues, utility solar power still accounts for 50-80% of the total solar power capacity in these countries. Chinese provinces in the west, which have the most solar power capacity are already facing grid curtailment. Japan is also seeing a number of provinces, where utilities are refusing to dispatch the solar power from some of the large plants. Emerging countries such as Chile and India are already facing or about to face transmission issues as well.

Indian Solar market suffers majorly due to lack of proper transmission

India which is set to become the 4th largest solar market in 2016, already has a weak transmission and distribution system for power. The country is infamous for playing host to the world’s biggest brownout, where hundreds of millions of people were left without power due to a grid failure. The country is still investing in building a nationwide grid for the existing conventional power plants. With new renewable energy capacity coming up quickly, it has to double its investments in transmission capacity, so that the whole system can run smoothly. India does not have a lot of rooftop solar, with more than 90% of its total solar capacity (of more than 7 GW) coming from utility scale plants. Many of these plants are being built in Rajasthan, which does not require much power to be consumed locally. Building of transmission capacity from these production areas is essential for the solar story in India to continue.

Also read List of largest Solar Farms in the world.

Chile is also facing a major issue in transmission being forced to curtail power as most capacity is being built in the north, while the consumption is in the South. Chile has been a posterchild for solar in South America, managing to generate solar power at extremely low costs because of the high insolation in Atacama desert. All these countries are starting to recognize the problem and are investing in transmission capacity, such as UHV line in Inner Mongolia to transport. However, building capacity is time consuming, with India typically taking over 6 years to build a new transmission line due to delays in project conceptualization, buying land and getting permissions to build these lines.


Solar energy has come as a boon for countries like India, where there is a requirement for huge amounts of cheap power to be built in an environment friendly way quickly. However, there are issues in distribution and integration of intermittent flow as wind and solar power. Already Indian states like TN are pressing the government to speed up the building up of “Green Energy” corridors, to move power.

Also Read Is Irrational Bidding in Indian Solar Power Auctions coming to an end?

Solar Energy has transformed Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu which used to be a power deficit state has suddenly become a power surplus state, with more than 8 GW of wind and solar power. With another 5 GW of RE power in the offing, the state needs to export power to other states, during peak generation times. However without sufficient capacity, it is finding it impossible to do so. PowerGrid which is India’s state owned power company does not have the capacity to build lines quickly. The government needs to think up a new policy and implementation framework, so that it can solve the transmission problems. If it does not do so quickly, the gigawatts of solar power plants that it plans to build will find themselves getting stranded, leading to huge losses for investors and lenders who are building plants with wafer thin margins. This could derail India’s solar story.

India needs to work on Transmission issues

There is a huge need to advance planning and creation of a robust power trading markets, which can effectively deal with the increasing amounts of intermittent solar and wind power generation. Solar power capacity in India will increase from around 3% now to 25-30% in the next 5-6 years, if the government targets are achieved. This will need a huge upgrade in India’s transmission planning and execution capacity. Just by touting low prices of solar generation being achieved will not help. Also while India has managed to get low prices for solar energy in reverse auction tenders, so have other countries such as Morocco, Mexico and China. The Indian government has not done anything extraordinary in terms of creating manufacturing capacity or technology. It is just cheap Chinese solar panels, which have allowed Indian government to achieve this. Now is the time for the government to step up and come up with a strategy to integrate millions of MWs of solar power into the national grid, such that it does not lead to a collapse.


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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