In 2012, India set the record for the largest energy blackout in history affecting more than 700 million people and exposing the weakness of the national grid. There are a handful of technologies that can deliver reliable power to a country like India suffering from endemic power cuts—rooftop-solar power is one of them.

A lack of financing stifles many entrepreneurs’ efforts to provide local people with reliable solar power Tweet This Quote

While the potential for rooftop solar is vast, a lack of financing stifles many entrepreneurs’ efforts to provide local people reliable solar power. Local banks are uninterested in funding this seemingly “new” technology, even though it’s been around since the 70’s. International lenders like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) could jumpstart the market by providing the initial funds, but they are stuck in the past paradigm of big centralized power plants. To catalyze the rooftop-solar industry in India and beyond, international lenders need to develop a new framework to invest in small-scale solar projects.

International lenders need to develop a new framework to invest in small-scale solar projects Tweet This Quote

There is great need for reliable power in India. In some states, power cuts occur everyday and can last for more than 16 hours. In all cities, blackouts are likely to occur and are most dangerous on hot summer days when everyone is using their air conditioners. Conveniently, solar power is the perfect solution to this problem because its peak production occurs in the middle of the day providing electricity to people when they need to cool down. As solar power scales up, it can eventually eliminate that mid-day peak as has already happened in countries with a lot of solar power, like Germany.

In nearly half of Indian states, rooftop solar is cheaper than the electricity commercial buildings can buy from the grid. And in nearly all states, it is cheaper than electricity from diesel-backup generators. Instead of spending billions of dollars on diesel and unreliable grid electricity, that investment can be used to deploy rooftop solar.

There is great need for reliable power in India. Tweet This Quote

This is already occurring globally. In 2014, almost 140 billion was invested in the solar industry. Of this massive investment, $70 billion was invested in smaller-scale, distributed solar projects like rooftop systems. Scale increasingly means that dozens of rooftop installations can be aggregated into billions of dollars of deployment. Small is big.

Deploying billions of dollars of rooftop solar requires investment, and local investors and banks in India are not getting the job done. Some international organizations are helping to fill the gap though. Obama announced a $4 billion government-backed investment in India this past month. Half of that sum will go towards renewable energy through the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and another $1 billion from the OPIC will be lent to small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) in rural areas. These sums are a great start, but they won’t reach local solar entrepreneurs unless the big organizations change their mindset.

International lenders are still stuck in the past when electricity meant big, centralized power plants with extensive grids. This model has failed to bring reliable electricity to millions of Indians as well as the 1.3 billion people globally without access to electricity. International lenders have been unsuccessful in financing rooftop solar because it is too small; they need to figure out how to make their big grants reach small solar systems.

The rooftop solar industry in India and other emerging markets is prime and ready to boom. Tweet This Quote

The investments big institutions—the IFC, OPIC, and US Export Import Bank—make into local entrepreneurs deploying rooftop solar will demonstrate to local financiers the attractive return sitting under their noses. As domestic lenders pile into the rooftop solar market, the international funding organizations can step aside and use their funds to catalyze the industry in another country. In turn, this will unleash a multi-billion dollar investment opportunity, like what is happening in the US and Europe.

The rooftop solar industry in India and other emerging markets is prime and ready to boom. All that is need is a few savvy financiers to light the spark that starts the solar revolution.

About the author

Jigar Shah

Jigar Shah

Jigar Shah is the co-founder and President of Generate Capital and the author of Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy. He founded SunEdison, the world’s largest solar services company, and was the founding CEO of the Carbon War Room.

  • pach8453

    The movement to bring solar energy to impoverished countries is a large trend right now. This movement is bringing a lot of success to the countries while benefitting the creators as they make a large profit. Solar energy has more benefits than just bringing electricity to a home, it allows people to work longer hours in the day and come home to some energy that has been stored throughout the day for them to use at night.

  • PaulPasquier

    There is real issue here, emerging countries should invest in solar energy to develop in an healthy way. As the article says : there is too many blackouts and power cuts and in India with the weather it’s very dangerous to have this kind of issues.

  • Jigar Shah

    Today, even with lower diesel/kerosene prices, solar lanterns and the mobile money innovations that have been paired with is are revolutionizing energy access. Within 5 years all 2.4B without reliable access will be able to study by LED lights and charge their cell phones affordably. Something coal and other central generation technologies cannot deliver and have not delivered to these populations.

  • rschneider2800

    The great thing about developing countries is the ability to leapfrog. This means developing countries do not have to go through our mistakes and can just access the newest technology. Why set up a network for landline phones when cellphones can do more faster and don’t need miles of wire? Why build multimillion dollar electricity grids when you can build wind farms and solar panels? However, energy is a different area because we have very little innovation or change in that field, but solar would be the best option for most countries right now.

  • kgallaher

    It’s really interesting how Americans take energy for granted, yet millions of people all over the world have no access to energy. I think solar energy would be a great way to help these people in developing countries like India. With access to energy and electricity, I think developing countries will be able to grow even more rapidly.

  • karnold001

    I completely agree. We take it for granted and we waste energy by leaving lights on, leaving electronics plugged in, etc. Solar energy would be a great way to help developing countries grow and an energy source that Americans should also look into in order to help sustain resources.

  • Mallory Benham

    Reliable and safe energy is vital for a country that is growing economically. It necessary for the people and businesses. These rooftop resources can provide those countries in need with sufficient energy.

  • dannyjoseph14

    This made me think back to an post from a couple weeks ago about the fear and misconceptions surrounding the investment into sustainable, environmentally friendly infrastructure. It is clear that there is a massive energy problem in India and it sounds like decentralized solar panels is a very viable and sustainable solution. It is a shame that many of the big banks and investors are too stubborn and ignorant to see the potential return in such an investment that would improve the lives of so many. It’s good to see that some big organizations are making the investment into solar powers to set a good example for local banks and investors.

  • storres001

    It would be interesting to see the benefits of puting solar panels like these in large cities in devloping countries, how would that affect them not only financially, and environmentally, but in their development.

  • Jack Strader

    Great point, as Americans we very rarely need to think about or even be worried about energy issues. We have a seemingly unlimited amount of energy that we take for granted. I think solar energy is a great start to helping fix this issue in India but the real problem is going to be finding the investors that are willing to put up the massive amount that it’s going to take to fund this project

  • danphaw

    The thing I have to wonder is, if solar has been around since the 70s why does it still require financing?

  • danphaw

    Question is, why do Americans take energy for granted?

  • Gaby Perez

    My question is very similar to yours. What I find really interesting about this article is that even though it has been around for decades, why its still not getting supported financially. I think it has to do with traditional methods and their distrust of new technologies.

  • danphaw

    But it’s not a new technology since, as the article points out, it’s been around since the 70s.

  • sadeakindele

    Implementing alternative green energy sources into third world countries is prime because they do not have an established method yet, and it is more affordable for them to develop in that direction than it is for us to deconstruct and revamp here. That being said, investors need to get behind this idea and get the ball rolling because it can have both positive financial and societal returns.

  • mpierson19

    I agree with you two. When reading this article I ran into the same thought about these technologies. They are not new technologies, so why aren’t people in many developing countries adapting to these existing technologies?

  • 204Ted

    Furthermore it’s better that they invest this way vs. China developing using primarily coal power and causing great amounts of air pollution.

  • danphaw

    My guess is they don’t have the disposable income to spend on solar panels? In America we take energy for granted because people long ago saw a way to make a profit by scaling energy for everyone. Solar has not yet crossed the line of parity where it can disrupt the current technology. Maybe that will change in the future but who knows?

  • danphaw

    It has less to do with being stubborn than it does making financial sense. When solar becomes a good investment people will invest. Fear is what pushes people into investing in something when the technology isn’t yet viable. I’ve been around since they first tried solar to heat water. It didn’t catch on not because of fear but because it didn’t work as well as other alternatives. Solar just hasn’t reached that point yet, and no amount of shaming investors will change that.

  • Katie Larson

    I think the answer is, like you said, in the traditional methods. The “big centralized power plant paradigm” has been in place since the beginning of the industrial era and has become ingrained in our perceptions of energy production. However, the needs of society differ from region to region and change over time which produces the need for new paradigms. In India, the “big centralized power plant” is an inadequate solution to India’s energy needs. In a world facing the many intense issues stemming from climate change, renewable energies provide an opportunity to tame some of the effects of cliamte change. Investors and financers need to alter their paradigms and recognize the opportunity found in the renewable energy market in solving the energy problems of countries and communities.

  • SkylerZahner

    I am usually not for the United States sticking our nose in other countries however I think in this case it is a great idea. First of all the US could make a great deal of money building these solar rooftops while also working towards a great cause to reduce waste around the world. However I do believe that the United States should focus on ourselves first and make our entire country more solar friendly before helping out other countries.

  • James Callahan

    I wonder if a business would be able to deploy these with a business model like Solar City uses in the United States? They own, manage and maintain the panels resulting in lower initial output costs from the customer in exchange the customer signs a long-term lease (20 or 30 years, I believe) to purchase their power from them at costs that are generally lower than the local utility company.

  • aburns002

    If most of the blackout’s occur on hot summer days it seems like a no brainer that India would invest in solar energy. Obviously there are variables that go into investing in this new type of energy, but with 700 million people affected by a blackout, something’s got to give.

  • Alexa A Dralle

    I agree that this seems like a no brainer. Not only is solar power so much more practical and dependable, but it is so much better for the environment! Also once the panels are put up and paid for, since he energy comes from the sun, the electricity will be free. On top of all of that it’s also important to know that we are going to run out a diesel a lot sooner than we are going to run out of sun.

  • mleano

    The other problem other than financing is the technical skills required to maintain the solar cells, batteries, and overall system. All users of this product will have to learn how to maintain their systems at the household level. In Alaska, generators were installed to power small villages but these small villages didn’t know how to maintain these generators and eventually broke down. Granted, solar cells and the batteries they’ll charge are much simpler, but they skills to maintain them have to go along with installing them or they’ll just fall out of function.

  • aburns002

    Very true! Can’t speak for diesel, but we have a couple more billion years of sun left.

  • Couldn’t agree more with this article and I believe companies like Off.Grid:Electric and Greenlight Planet are just beginning to show the tip of the iceberg of how financially successful solar in emerging markets will become (not to mention, hugely impactful for those living these countries).

    Besides solar, what other industries do you predict becoming the next multi-billion dollar industries in emerging markets & why?

  • Jenny Lynn Shaver

    In 2001, I went to Tegucigalpa, Honduras on a missions trip. One evening, while visiting one of the slums in the city, the power cut off. Now, we were on the third floor of a decrepit building with 13 middle schoolers, and 7 adults crammed around a table in a 12″ x 12″ room. The moment the power turned off, panic erupted. The families cats immediately jumped on the table and started eating the food this very poor family had prepared for us, another cat began chasing a chicken under the table (yes there were chickens on the third floor), and every middle schooler in the room started screaming. With the lights off, cockroaches the size of nutter butters swarmed the room. But the family we were visiting were use to this sort of event and they had a dozen candles lit in seconds. In Tegucigalpa, the city will cut power to the slums when there is not enough power for the rich neighborhoods. And the blackouts would go on for several hours several times per week. We were “lucky” that night, the black out lasted two hours before the power came back on. I can only imagine how life-changing it would be for neighborhoods to have their own solar power. But I also wonder how corrupt governments which see the poor as a disease would handle a self sustaining neighborhood.

  • pcutinelli

    This was such a great, informative read. Solar energy is such an efficient and clean source, and to see how it can help people in these places such as India where a reliable power source is so vital. I am sure that we will see so many more clean energy sources like this in the near future playing a pivotal role in everyone’s lives.

  • Halea McAteer

    This is an interesting point you make. This ‘leapfrogging’ allows other countries and populations to build off technologies that already exist to help the situation in their areas in a smart economical as well as environmental way. I think people are often times hesitant to adopt these sort of newer technologies for fear of how much the initial cost might be. However, as this article shows, the returns are very much worth the original cost of the technology.

  • Mabel

    I really like the fact that they are using the sun which is a constant source of energy for this. Indian is a nation that has been industrializing at a staggering rate and the implementation of green energy sources allows to foster more cleaner methods of industry/power.

  • Erin Todd

    I completely agree. It is an advantage so to speak to developing countries to observe and see what countries are successful and why. However, when energy is involved, everyone is still experimenting with that and still are having trial and error period. Thus, India will have to endure the experimentation like the rest of the countries trying to find better ways of producing energy.

  • csturk

    So many great points in this article. Its a great thought that we are only a few brave financiers to start the solar energy boom in India, and possibly many other countries. I think that if this is possible in India, there are many other emerging markets that could benefit from solar energy. There is one other gap that needs to be addressed and that would be the skills and knowledge to upkeep the solar panels, but with an innovative mind and a simple training plan, this could pan out to be an opportunity for job creations in the country. Can’t wait to see what happens with this industry, I wish I had the means to invest!

  • Katie

    It seems like international lenders and other funders are unable to make the shift from big electric companies and are unable to switch to the smaller, solar companies. Although the smaller solar systems are more beneficial for everyone, smaller solar companies seem like they’re having a hard time making a name for themselves. Solar energy seems efficient and very beneficial on hot summer days.

  • AndreaOlsen22

    I think solar energy would be a beneficial investment towards any country, but especially those who have unreliable energy. Having guaranteed energy the majority of the time can be a wonderful thing. The people of India won’t have interruptions during their day. They will be able to be productive and get done what they need to do. Having energy also guarantees safety. This investment will end up being worth-while because energy from the sun, as crazy as it sounds, is free.

  • Arnthor Kristinsson

    I couldn’t agree more Andrea. I think that sustainable and renewable energy is something that all countries could benefit from, both considering cost and environmental protection.

  • Matthew Montoya

    I agree with your point that it would be interesting to see the benefits of putting solar panels like these in large cities, but I also wonder if the solar panels would be produced locally or imported in and what effect that would have on the local economy. Additionally, I wonder what the environmental effects initially following the production of Solar Panels would have on India or the places that produce then export solar panels?

  • JuanFonseca1995

    The rooftop solar industry in India has many incentives that will benefit both parties from the opposite sides of the spectrum. From the investors standpoint, you will be helping the lives of over 1.3 billion people that need electricity during the most critical times of the day. Investors can gain billions from profits and at the same time; they will be helping humanity, essentially they are killing two birds with one stone. From the citizens of India standpoint, you see that many businesses care about the health and safety of your people. Also, you will work with a global community that can create many innovative solutions to many problems that are occurring in society. All parties will benefit from investing time and energy(no pun intended) into this new energy market that will further change the outcome of many lives across many different regions in the world.

  • We definitely hope to expand into India one day. Great to hear!

  • John Mulhern

    I agree with this concept. developing countries have already utilized the wireless world in regards to their communication without drudging through the inefficiencies that the wired period brought. In the world of energy, they don’t have to wade through all the inefficiencies of fossil fuels and can utilize the technology we have to build a sustainable energy grid without all the negatives that fossil fuels bring.

  • Tiffanie Marszalek

    Although this article specifically represented the recent aid of Solar power in India, I love the thought of philanthropic organizations being able to aid third-world countries by donating the gift of solar power. Helping others by allowing them to take advantage of their own resources should be a common, human, courtesy. Sadly, it seems these nations aren’t afforded the means of capturing their own resources. It seems like a productive relationship for both parties.

  • ZakFritz

    This was a very interesting read. I did not know that India was having such problems with their energy. Your solution seems so simple, has anyone started working on this?

  • conner_faulkner

    This was very interesting to hear about India’s energy problems. And this might need immediate attention. Hopefully this can be solved soon.

  • Pauline Lefeuvre

    Very interesting to see how developing countries can take a step in advance regarding sustainable energy and solar in particular. As the world, and especially developed countries such as America and European countries, point a finger on developing countries about the mistakes they can make while developing, it is a really good lesson for us! As danphaw said, this should make us ask ourselves why do we take energy for granted ? Plus, having free energy could not be more beneficial for a country that suffers from poverty. Very promising and not only in India, hopefully.

  • kbell003

    I think that this shows a big problem that non profits are having. They all have amazing ideas but they are fighting a constant battle to get investors to adapt to the times. I think that this should be a major focus for non profits, rather than just trying to create the newest solution.

  • whwatkin

    Ultimately solar power is going to boom somewhere. Whether it be in Africa, India, Europe, or the U.S. it is going to happen eventually. Now would it more beneficial for it to happen in an emerging market, yes. It would catapult that market into the upper tier.

  • Alex_C_B

    I was going to make a post about this, and was struggling to look for the correct term to describe this. “Leapfrog” is a great term and a great concept. I’ve only been in blackouts during storms, and it was never for more than an hour or so. Is it stupid of me to say that I am almost jealous of India’s situation? The progress that they are making is incredible.

    I am glad that the US is investing in India’s future. I would like to see the US adopt something like this on a large scale.

  • epmcinty

    It is crazy that something as simple as having electricity that we take for granted, is one of the greatest issues in some parts of the world. I cannot even imagine a 16 hour power outage like the ones that have occurred in various parts of India! Especially being from Arizona, that could literally kill people. Overall, this is a creative and very remarkable step to provide places like India and other developing countries with reliable, cheaper, and more profitable energy sources like solar. This is the beginning of a bright future for energy conservation for our world. Every day we are getting closer to the archetypical futuristic world of innovation.

  • rschneider2800

    Thanks for the comment Alex. I definitely agree with the jealous thing. We priced how much it would take to have a row of solar panels at my house and let me it was an enormous sum of money! But another great thing about having an entire country start using these new technologies is it makes it cheaper for us to start using the tech with economies of scale. So innovators and entrepreneurs gets to bring reliable lighting to countries with horrible blackout problems and it makes the price of production cheaper for everyone. Bringing light, clean water, and agricultural techniques eventually makes the entire world a better place for everyone bc it makes it affordable for everyone!

  • Bryan Parrish

    Have you heard about a couple, who are both engineers, who developed a solar roadway system? Putting solar panels on the roof is still a great idea, but their system could power literally power the world for a fairly cheap price.

    Check it out and tell me what you think. Is this viable for third-world countries, if not the entire planet?

  • rschneider2800

    This is freaking amazing!! Thanks for the amazing link! I had heard about solar roadways but I always thought it was basically a concept car; something that looks pretty but not something people really use. This is incredible though and it’s great that there have already been roads made.
    I definitely agree that this would be a great move for an entrepreneur to bring to 3rd world countries bc it would create reliable roads for transportation that isn’t there, solar energy, clean water, Internet connection, and jobs. The only problem would be the initial cost. It would have to be something like the link below talks about; start with small projects and earn money back with the end goal of installing a solar roadway.

  • Will Carter

    I was really excited about that project when I first saw it, but as I’ve seen more and more arguments against its viability, I have to agree with the detractors. It’s a very lofty idea, but I don’t think it could actually work. Here’s a video that extensively points out all the very serious issues with it (it’s pretty long):

    One of the points he makes is that rooftop solar panels are a LOT more effective in every way as an energy source.

  • joconne4

    It is an interesting opportunity, introducing alternative energy systems to developing countries. It is certainly a whole other matter to ever try to convert our current national infrastructure to any other system, since there is already so much in place. There are certainly other countries that are closer to having the opportunity to build reliance on other energy systems practically from scratch. If we saw others becoming more reliant on such systems, it would make things feel much easier in other places to accept that sort of change, never mind the chances that a more widespread adoption of a new technology somewhere could accelerate its viability on its own through further technological developments.

  • Bryan Parrish

    I just actually wrote a paper on alternative energy for another class, and one factor that keeps coming up is that a lot of people think that solar panels are not aesthetically pleasing. A stupid argument I think, but one that is a roadblock for the industry. One aspect that many people do not consider.

  • Cindy Nawilis

    If you agree with this article, then I urge you to check out SunFunder. SunFunder fundraises capital from accredited and non-accredited investors, and uses that capital to provide working capital loans to solar companies in emerging markets.

    SunFunder has crowdfunded a micro-grid solar project implemented by Mera Gao power in India, but it’s a really small slice of the type of financing that is needed across the industry. Our team agrees with Jigar that there is a huge financing need for solar industry in India and other emerging markets, and that it can’t be solved by just one financier (or two). SunFunder aims to catalyze more private investments into the sector. You can read more about our project in India here:

  • Lindsey Kessler

    I also think the leapfrogging is an interesting point. i think that international lenders are hesitant to adopt these newer technologies because of how much it costs, like you mentioned, but I also think this is why they are stuck in the old ways of using large power plants to generate energy, not that they’re stuck in the past like the author said. I’m sure some of them are narrow minded, but I bet the majority of them are open to this idea, but are hesitant because of how costly it is. It’s great that India has the privilege of adopting these new technologies right away and not have to go through the mistakes we’ve made. From how much India has been through, I am not jealous, because they deserve it.

  • Kunle Odebunmi

    Great post!

    Well over 340million in West Africa have no access to energy, including 100million Nigerians that are not connected to the central grid at all. Will they be connected to the grid in the next 10 -20years? Possibly Not. The way to go is the massive rooftop solar deployment across the developingnations. I quite agree that almost all the local banks and international financiers do not yet see the low-hanging fruits in rooftop solar investment in emerging markets like Nigeria, India, Ethiopia, Bangladeshi, etc

    What has put most emerging markets in perennial power outage from the grid is mostly due to energy generation capacity of the plant, single source of failure (distribution and transmission issues), energy ‘theft’ and vandalization. We have so many megawatts on paper that are not reflected in homes and businesses across the continents.

    Funding fossil fuel will always create a polluted economy!

  • Jcwilson480

    Good points made here!

  • amykahl8

    There’s a campus in cleveland which gets most of its energy from solar panels. It’s very energy efficient. I think not only in underdeveloped countries, but also in developed countries this needs to be a primary energy source.

  • wegener61

    This is true, but they can also fall into the cheaper, easier ways to developing that we did. Oil rules everything, but to find people who want to put the Earth in front of personal or professional gain, and to put them in power is a task of its own.

  • Bgreenwell686

    This is a great article, and I think it really points out the “old school” thought mentality that still circulates itself through the financial sector. Why continue to think in terms of large scale investments with aging technology? I believe that part of this has to do with the corporate powers that be, and the money that they would stand to lose if the masses decided to trade in their old technology, for new proven methods…But I digress.

    This trend of smaller groups making investments into emerging markets has not only proven to be successful, but also financially responsible. With a bit more support these groups of innovators would be able to not only change the energy production in India, but also in many more countries as well. “With a long enough lever, you can move the world”

  • James Sullivan

    I agree that solar energy is the most efficient way to power our buildings. The start up may cost a lot but they will pay off in the long-run, which isn’t that long. Solar panels in India would make their industry substantially better. They wouldn’t have to worry about any blackouts and pay less for energy. I understand the United States donated money for a start up but to what companies and corporations. How do they decide what business gets the installment? Do small business owners get pushed away?

  • Amy Rink

    Thank you for posting this article! It’s incredible to read about what many people are able to come up and with and actually make happen. This concept would be the best way to help expand their economy around them.

  • Alexa A Dralle

    Wow, I think I remember hearing something about those roadways a while back. Though there may be some issues with what they have invented thus far, I really do think this is something that should be looked at and improved by others ad then implemented. It is so practical and such an amazing way to give back to the earth. it has SO MANY benefits.

  • Abby2017

    I think that anything that works efficiently and cheaply is good not only for some people, but for an entire population and country. Solar energy would probably be the most efficient and the best option right now I would have to agree with you on that.

  • GSonDUBS

    Interesting read. I love solar energy, I can’t wait to see more of them. I would like to know what is the rate of growth when it comes to solar power globally. I have been thinking about installing solar panels at my house, my girlfriend is looking into them now, hope I will have them soon.

  • Brooke Bower

    Wow, the sounds like chaos. In America, I feel like we take things for grated. For example, electricity. I never think twice about turning on the lights. And it is crazy to think that their power outages can last up to 15 hours. That is a long time to be in the dark. I believe solar panels would be a great investment for India. But I think about what you said, how they cut the power to the slums not the rich. I wonder if they’d just give the solar power to the rich and not the poor. Everyone deserves electricity.

  • kolinjk29

    This sounds like a great thing to invest it. It totally makes sense especially in the part where must of the energy used is during the day when its hot and the sun is out. Solar energy I believe will continue to grow into the future to cut down emissions and help lower out energy costs. Cutting out the big power plants will slowly start to fade away as this technology continues to develop. I believe that it is great that the U.S is investing in india’s future resources. This concept will work if investments start going through. Thanks for posting.