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India to Boost Solar Power Generation

India has launched a program to boost solar power generation over the next decade. India wants to make solar energy a central part of its efforts to combat climate change.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated on Monday in New Delhi a national "Solar Mission", which aims to generate 20,000 megawatts of power in 12 years.

The prime minister says he hopes this will help India bring about a strategic shift from the country's reliance on fossil fuels to a more sustainable path of growth.

It is an ambitious target. India presently generates a meager three megawatts of solar power.

Experts say reducing solar energy costs to levels equal to conventional sources such as coal will be critical to the success of the mission.

Prime Minister Singh says he is confident that India has the scientific talent to develop technologies that will make solar energy viable. He says he hopes the "solar mission" will replicate the success of the country's highly successful information technology industry.

"Eventually, if the ambitious roll out of the mission is to become a living reality, we will have to create many 'Solar Valleys' on the lines of the Silicon Valleys that are spurring our IT industry across the four corners of our country. These valleys will become hubs for solar science, solar engineering and solar research, fabrication and manufacturing," he said.

Indian officials hope solar power will also help eliminate the country's huge energy deficit. Nearly half of India's over one billion people, mostly in the villages, are not connected to the nation's power grid.

Mr. Singh says solar power can play a significant role in lighting up the countryside.

"The rapid spread of solar lighting systems, solar water pumps and other solar power-based rural applications can change the face of India's rural economy," he added.

The "Solar Mission" is expected to cost about $19 billion, and will start with steps to drive down production costs of solar panels and spur domestic manufacturing.

The government is also calling on the private sector to invest in research, manufacturing and development of solar power. Besides helping to increase the amount of renewable energy in the country, India wants to build a solar power industry that will match countries like China and Japan.

Climate change campaigners have welcomed India's plans to boost solar energy, although there is some skepticism whether its ambitious targets can be achieved.

India is regarded as critical in global efforts to combat climate change because its greenhouse emissions are expected to grow rapidly as its economy expands. India hopes to cut down its emissions by improving energy efficiencies and focusing on solar power.