Eight years of National Solar Mission: Renewing the renewables target

24 Jan 2018

The National Solar Mission's original target of achieving 20 gigawatts (GW) of grid-connected solar power plants by 2020 has been since revised to 100 GW

renewable energy stamp
The 100 GW target consists of 60 GW of grid-connected, ground-mounted large solar power plants and 40 GW of rooftop solar power plants

India began its quest for solar energy long before the effects of a warming planet and climate change were realized the world over. At the time, India’s efforts were a result of recognizing the need for self-reliance in meeting its energy needs in the face of the first oil shocks of 1973. Initial efforts in solar energy were focused on developing indigenous technologies through National Physical Laboratory, Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs), and other research institutes. The focus was on developing solar, thermal, and photovoltaic (PV) technologies and applications, such as solar cookers, water heaters, PV lighting systems, and so on.

The central government focused on creating a market for solar energy by providing subsidies and tax incentives on the one hand and promotion of manufacturing technologies through public sector companies on the other. At the time, the focus of solar technologies was mainly on the rural and social sector. Solar photovoltaic technology, one of the most expensive technologies at that time, was promoted extensively to meet the challenge of providing electricity for rural telecom network, village electrification and electrification of unmanned railway crossings, etc.

Advent of National Solar Mission

The sector acquired a major boost in 2010 when the National Solar Mission was launched as a part of National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). This led to advent of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), officially launched on January 11, 2010.

The original mission document laid down a comprehensive strategy to develop both grid-connected and off-grid applications of solar energy in a phased manner with an emphasis on developing domestic manufacturing and indigenous technologies through a comprehensive research and development (R&D) programme.

The mission's original target was achieving 20 gigawatts (GW) of grid-connected solar power plants along with separate targets for solar water heating, solar street lighting, solar cooking, cooling, and other applications. These initial targets and their timelines are as follows:


Application Segment

Target for Phase I (2010/13)

Target for Phase II (2013/17)

Target for Phase III (2017/22) (cumulative)


Solar collectors

7 million square metres

15 million square metres

20 million square metres


Off grid solar


200 MW

1,000 MW

2,000 MW


Utility grid power, including roof top

1,000-2,000 MW

4,000-10,000 MW

20,000 MW

Among the key achievements of the first two phases was establishing reverse bidding as the market-oriented procurement mechanism as against the practice of feed-in tariff and capital subsidies (which covers a share of the upfront cost of installing something like a solar water heater or domestic solar power plant). This resulted in substantial reduction of solar electricity supply prices.

To strengthen supply, the NSM also introduced bundling (selling together) of expensive solar power with conventional coal-based power to reduce the cost of power supplied to the utilities, using special procurement mechanisms and Viability Gap Funding (VGF) to lower the average price of bundled electricity.

Further, the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) was established as a major procurement agency to reduce the risks for solar power producers. Another achievement was the creation of larger projects to further bring down the capital investments in solar power generation projects through the development of integrated solar parks that provided integrated infrastructure for solar power plants.

Apart from this, a Renewable Energy Corridor was also launched to develop a dedicated transmission grid for areas with abundance of sunlight or wind to create solar and wind energy. Solar radiation monitoring stations were also set up across India.

Developments post 2014

Since 2014, the central government has set its sights on improving energy infrastructure with greater emphasis on clean energy and energy security. As part of the ambitious mission to provide electricity for all, and other initiatives, the government revised the target of establishing grid-connected solar power under the NSM to 100 GW by 2022 from 20 GW. This was part of the overall renewable energy target of 175 GW which also includes 60 GW of wind energy, 10 GW of bio-energy, and 5 GW of small hydro power plants.

This five-fold jump in the NSM target created a huge demand for solar energy projects and equipment.

The revised target of 100 GW is divided in two major major segments—a) 60 GW of grid-connected ground-mounted large solar power plants (typically above 1 MW capacity), and b) 40 GW of rooftop solar power plants for generation of solar electricity at the point of consumption.

Further emphasis was given to bring in central and state public sector establishments, defence establishments, and others who started establishing projects on their unutilized land banks and large roof areas. To avoid the impact of limited land availability, ideas such as floating solar power plants, solar power plants over canals, use of barren land for solar power plants, etc., are being promoted.

In addition, to ease the procurement of solar power, net metering, interstate power purchase by bulk consumers such as the Delhi Metro, and revised targets for Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPO) were released.

Key achievements during 2014/17

Thanks to the momentum achieved by these measures, a capacity of 12.87 GW of solar power was added till November 30, 2017. The country is also set to achieve the original target of 20 GW set for 2022 by the end of 2018 itself.

Among other achievements, bulk procurement of solar panels through EESL (Energy Efficiency Services Ltd) for applications such as solar irrigation pump sets has further reduced the procurement prices of solar modules. There are also new initiatives to bring in larger investments through RE-Invest and innovations in floating solar PV plant structures, inverter designs, and rooftop solar system features.

There is also focus on skill development and indigenous manufacturing through establishment of the Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ) as part of Skill Development Mission and through initiatives including SECI Expression of Interest for setting up an integrated manufacturing facility of 20 GW capacity within three years.

In addition to strengthening of RPO mechanisms through amendments to the National Tariff Policy and Electricity Act 2003 (proposed), there is now also a provision of Renewable Generation Obligations (RGOs) for new fossil fuel power plants.

Way forward

The NSM seems firmly on its path to achieve the target of 100 GW of grid-connected solar power by 2022. However, a lot needs to be done to improve domestic manufacturing and develop a competitive industry with qualified manpower. Further, the solar rooftop programme needs to strengthened and more market innovations are required so that a large market for distributed solar power can be developed in a short time.