Foreign firms look to increase solar power presence in India

MORABANDAR, December 22, 2010 (AFP) – The Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site off the coast of India’s financial capital Mumbai, draw hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Local people could sell back surplus energy to the grid, he added, while the government should provide subsidies, as it does to the coal industry and as China has done, to offset the higher costs of solar units. But when the last of the wooden ferry boats leaves at nightfall for the mainland 14 kilometres (8.5 miles) away, the villagers who live permanently on the island are plunged into darkness.

A new scheme, launched this week by an Australian firm, aims to change that, providing three villages with round-the-clock electricity for the first time by harnessing power from the country’s most abundant energy source — sunshine.

The initiative by the Sydney-based Solar-Gem to run LED lamps from panels that soak up the sun’s rays and store them as electricity in battery units comes as domestic and foreign firms look to India as a growth market for renewable energy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he wants the country to become a world leader in the sector, not just to cut a crippling