Providing cheap solar lanterns has the possibility to replace the fossil based polluting kerosene that is used for lighting in many parts of rural India.
Author: Pandurang Hegde
It is estimated that 18000 villages in the remote areas do not have access to electricity in the country. The conventional approach to solve this problem is to provide connectivity through centralised electricity grids. However this solution is not only capital intensive and comes with high financial costs, but it also has high environmental costs due to power transmission form conventional power generation stations.
In contrast to this, the small scale decentralized off grid solutions, especially installation of solar power will meet the needs with provision of reliable power supply.
What are these off grid solar power systems and how does this work?
Solar power has enormous capacity to generate power without causing pollution; it is one of the main sources of clean energy and alternate to burning fossil fuels. The installation of captive solar power plants, roof top solar systems is essentially geared towards connecting to the existing countrywide power grids.
In contrast to this the off grid systems are those which utilities the solar energy at decentralized household or village level.
Solar Home Systems, with solar panels to generate power for individual homes is an easy way to connect those who are deprived of power connection, it can also act as stand by during the severe power cuts in the countryside.
The installation of solar irrigation pumps is another off grid power initiative that is being successfully tried out in many parts of the country. Though the initial capital costs are high, over the years it pays back the owner through provision of cheap uninterrupted power over with very little maintenance costs.
This has the potential to resolve the power crisis as well as provide energy and food security to the farming community.
Providing cheap solar lanterns has the possibility to replace the fossil based polluting kerosene that is used for lighting in many parts of rural India. Similarly, micro grids supported with battery can store the power. This can provide easy access to recharge mobile sets and power the telecommunication systems in remote hill areas.
Solar powered refrigeration systems in Primary Health Centres can store the lifesaving medicines in the countryside.
The solar driers for agricultural processing and industrial use, and water heating systems are already in use that needs to be supported under the ongoing solar mission.
These systems lead to reduction in consumption of conventional energy resulting in saving the energy.
Realising the importance of solar power, the Prime Minister has given the approval for increasing the capacity of solar mission from 22 giga watts (GW) to 100 GW to be achieved by the 2022. The Government of India has set a detail road map to achieve this through roof top solar generation of 40 GW and the medium decentralised off grid connection of 60 GW.
In order to meet the target, an investment of Rs 60000 crores is being made that is bound to unleash enormous opportunity to entrepreneurs who wants to take advantage of the lucrative solar market. India is the only country in the world that has attracted of US dollars one billion from The World Bank to realize the goal of harnessing solar power.
Recognising this factor the global leaders in solar power are keen to invest in India to harness the ever increasing solar market. Already 40 companies have come forward to install solar home systems. The high initial costs of these systems needs to be shared by the financial institutions, especially banks in the rural areas. Policy support towards this will pave way for a sustained growth of off grid solar market with large customer base willing to use the products to meet the home needs. Like any consumer goods, the people would be willing to purchase the solar products across the counter with assured follow up services over the years.
In order to achieve the target of off grid solar systems will require the skilled manpower and barefoot technicians in rural areas to provide maintenance and services. The skill development programme launched by Government of India needs to be linked to building the capacities of rural youth that can provide livelihood opportunities and sustained source of income. The potential of creating 1 million green jobs to cater to the needs of solar energy as technicians will regenerate the rural economy.
Accessing energy is strongly linked to achieving millennium development goals. The lack of accesses to modern forms of energy leads to energy poverty. In India 360 million people live without grid connectivity, suffering energy poverty.
The Solar Mission launched by Government of India has the capacity to alleviate this population above energy poverty and provide regular and clean source of renewable power.
*Author is an independent journalist and columnist based in Karnataka. Regularly writes on environmental and climate change issues. He has experience of using solar technology for past three decades.