Is Solar Energy the Answer to Rural India's Power Problem? | Milaap

Is Solar Energy the Answer to Rural India's Power Problem?

One thing for certain is that there is no lack of sunlight in India, and that this sunlight can be harnessed for our power needs.  As solar technology gets more advanced and cheaper it is becoming a more economically viable option for the country.  At the moment India is the fifth largest producer and consumer of electricity behind countries like China, U.S.A., Japan and Russia.  Sadly, burning coal is our main source for electricity generation and about 53% of power is produced from coal.   As we all know our love for coal and the burning of other fossil fuels is destroying our planet at an exponential rate.  Most current environmental figures state that if humans keep burning coal at the rate we are, by 2050 humankind will be at the brink of destruction (sorry to freak you out, but it's true). What can a rapidly developing country like India do to curb environmental damage that is being dealt to our planet and its habitants?  Recently the Indian government has announced to invest Rs. 3,000 crore to the National Clean Energy Fund.  Of that money about Rs. 500 crore will be be provided for development of four large-scale solar projects across the country. The projects, are likely to achieve capacities between 2,000 MW and 4,000 MW when fully functional .  INDSolarEnergyApr172013 Since about 72% of India's population lives in rural regions, these solar projects must expand their grid to these areas.  Currently, the electrical infrastructure of rural India is extremely poor  At the moment about 400 million people in India are living without access to electricity.  Now that India's government has opened its arms to the renewable energy sector, many established international solar energy providers are looking to help electrify rural India.  American companies like SunEdison already have plans to set up distributed solar power projects in rural areas of the country.  The problem is that there is a lack of financial support for sustaining these rural projects.  Ideally the rural solar energy model would be where a local entrepreneur purchases the solar-micro-grid system and supplies electricity to villagers, who pay him out of what they save on kerosene.  Other companies like FirstSolar are looking to help finance these endeavors with the aid of government subsidies, but in order to be profitable these small projects must be happening on a very large-scale.  [caption id="attachment_4558" align="aligncenter" width="408"]IMG_1284 These ladies' lives are illuminated by a simple solar lantern[/caption]I myself have visited many of these rural villages, especially in West Bengal and the demand for solar is most definitely there.   local community members have now been introduced to the idea of solar energy through the use of small and simple solar lanterns.  Since the local electrical infrastructure is is very poor, people are relying more and more on these solar lanterns for light during the numerous power outages that plague these communities.  Residents of rural West Bengal are now very educated on the issue of solar energy and seem to understand the environmental implications of switching to more sustainable energy sources like solar.  The main question I receive when visiting these communities to see their utilization of the solar lanterns is, "when will we be able to power everything using solar energy?".  Although I cannot give a straight answer, I believe that with the support of the government and the renewable energy industry,   solar energy will be a significant source of power in the very near future.