From the observation tower in the Thar desert and as far as the eye can see, the dark blue arrays of a million solar panels can be seen sitting silently on the red dust. The Charanka solar park in Gujarat is an “ultra-mega” power project – the Indian government’s phrase – and the biggest in Asia.
But unlike the hundreds of coal plants and their noxious smokestacks being built in the country, the only danger linked to the solar panels are the snakes and scorpions that slink and scuttle between the sparse shrubs, posing a minor hazard to those who dust off the panels after dusk.
“But today, God is doing the cleaning,” says Poojan Ghodadra, programme manager for SunEdison, as rare, intense rain bounces off the panels. SunEdison has provided about a 10th of the 221MW total in the 5,000-acre solar park.
The project was the brainchild of Narendra Modi. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi spurred companies to build more than 900MW of solar plant across the state in just a couple of years. Now, as prime minister, the question is whether he can repeat the feat across India, which receives more sunlight than any other country in the G20.