Challenges, opportunities for off-grid solar lighting solutions in India

Published on Thursday, 24 December 2015

Published by Parimita Mohanty on Thursday, 24 December 2015

A solar lighting panel in a field in Uttar Pradesh, India.
A solar lighting panel in a field in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Light-emitting diode (LED) is one of the world’s fastest growing lighting technologies, showing great promise to provide reliable, efficient, effective and durable lighting solutions for various applications. 
Over the years, LED has already shown impressive performance in a range of applications where reliability, color, visibility and long life are important. LED lamps exhibit the strongest growth trend among all lighting technologies. A recent study shows that the Indian LED market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 45-47% until 2015, and by 2021 LED technology will account for 60% of the lighting market in the country. Besides India, LED-based lighting solutions have also shown tremendous potential in other South Asian countries. 
Similarly, there is a substantial technological development in the solar photovoltaic sector in terms of its performance improvement and reduction in price, making this sector one of the prime market contenders in recent years. Solar LED provides reliable lighting options globally, particularly as a replacement to conventional fuel-based lighting options. The shift toward renewable energy and the growing demand for energy efficiency has pushed the market toward more energy-efficient products. LED lighting technology is globally recognized and has proved to be very suitable for the rural population in India, whose power supply is erratic and scarce.
Traditionally, solar lighting was provided through stand-alone individual systems such as solar lanterns, solar task lights, or solar home lighting systems. However, in recent years centralized solar systems, too, have come into use. Centralized systems are available in the form of solar charging stations or small micro- or nano-grids. Although there is no one solution applicable to all the geographic, demographic and culturally different scenarios, all these different configurations have their own advantages and relevance applicable for a particular scenario. ADB is one of several international development organizations working on different aspects of promoting clean energy-based lighting solutions through its Lighting for All and Energy for All initiatives.
It is expected and understood that with such a spiraling demand for solar lighting applications and adequate volumes for fast deployment, there is a possibility of intrusion of poor-quality solar lighting products with relatively higher prices into the market. This could cause user dissatisfaction, resulting in rejection of the technology and damage to the overall reputation of the entire range of products. 
While understanding that quality assurance is one of the most critical aspects of widespread dissemination of LED-based solar lighting products in the long run, a number of institutions are engaged in developing the complete quality assurance framework for these products, and are also assisting the LED lighting industry to develop more user-friendly, consumer-driven, high-performance yet reasonably priced lighting products.
Besides quality assurance, which as a theme is still maturing, there is a large scope to further enhance technology options and integrate smart design concepts in order to make the product more robust and efficient. Such technical advances must also be analyzed from the business and institutional benefits, to better quantify their benefits to both costs and operations. This research is essential, owing to a wide range found in quality of installations in the market, the lack of clearly defined technical standards (for design, installation, operation and safety) or minimum performance benchmarks. Again, although the cost of different individual components of the lighting solution is declining, the entire system cost is found to be still comparatively high, and should be further reduced. 
Although the solar lighting sector is getting an overwhelming response, a few critical challenges remain, and need urgent attention: (i) quality assurance and quality control; (ii) standardization in terms of optimized technical configuration, safety and quality of lighting service and monitoring systems; and (iii) capacity development at different levels and themes to manage such a growing market demand.