Although Indian economy has been enjoying a positive momentum, rural India which is the heart of the country having 67% of the total population has not seen much light. While overall Indian economy is expected to grow in excess of 7.2 per cent the fastest amongst the global economies, rural India still lags behind woefully. People in rural India lack access to grid-connected power, use archaic sources of energy such as kerosene, diesel, wood-fired chulhas, etc, nearly 25% of rural household income is spent on these fuels, endangering health and environment.
The irony being, India having potential to produce nearly 750,000 megawatts of solar power, according to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Given current patterns of household consumption, just one megawatt can power about 1,500 rural households!.Fast-dropping costs for solar power, combined with plenty of sun and a huge need for electricity in a country where a quarter of the population roughly about 400 million people are still without electricity definitely means that solar energy has huge potential in India.
Solar energy bridging this gap
Huge drop in solar capital cost nearly 75% over the last five years, solar energy has now become commercially mainstream attracting private capital and entrepreneurs. Further, the Centre, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has strongly supported solar power. As part of the government’s vision of ‘Electricity for all by 2019’, the Centre has placed special emphasis on incentivizing distributed solar power, having already sanctioned 4,604 distributed solar project in rural area to power 4,745 villages. Government aims to bring 500-megawatt mini-grid solar systems in the next five years, according to a government draft policy.
Let us play a positive role in bringing economic change
At least eight hours of uninterrupted power a day is needed to run small and12 hours minimum power supply will enable children to study extra hours, provide women a lighted space to cook and the family not to eat dinner in the dark. Having electricity from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at least, could bring social and economic change. 750 million people get less than six hours of uninterrupted power a day according to a recent study by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. More than 230 million people in India still have no access to basic electricity, often in rural areas where expanding the national power grid is too expensive.
Solar energy is therefore a particular focus as it will contribute t100 gigawatts (GW) of the renewable energy capacity target of 175 GW by 2022. Renewable energy-based mini-grids can boost small businesses, create local jobs and build economies thus improve living standards in villages. This in turn will ensure women’s empowerment, better health and education. I feel there cannot be a better development agenda for the country than this. These are crucial years both for meeting world goals to extend clean electricity to communities without it and to curb climate-changing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, which calls for fossil fuels to be phased out by the second half of the century. India’s ministry for renewable energy released a national draft policy last June. It aims to deploy at least 10,000 renewable energy projects in the next five years in unserved and underserved parts of the country, with an average capacity of 50 KW per project. A 10-year blueprint predicts 57 percent of India’s electricity capacity will come from non-fossil sources by 2027.
Setting an Example and creation of local jobs
A recent study of Thomson Reuters Foundation plastic sheet covers a large diesel generator in a corner of a petrol station in Atrauli, a village in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, a modest but telling sign of progress. The gas station used to shut at 7 p.m. every day because the lights would often go off, and there was no way to know when they would come back.. The main power supply was very irregular, and operating the generator was expensive, so they could not afford to stay open beyond 7 p.m. Last year, the petrol pump got a connection to a solar mini-grid, a local power network not connected to the national grid, which guarantees six hours of electricity every day. The pump has since stayed open all night. Science Advances magazine study published in looked at 1,281 households in 81 communities found that providing about two hours of electricity in the evening via clean energy mini-grids resulted in few significant changes. Also , Providing larger amounts of power to supply businesses, rather than just homes, could help solar systems pay for themselves more quickly and could subsidize household use of power.
Calling likeminded entrepreneurs: The decentralized and modular nature of solar power makes it easy to deploy for multiple rural applications, impacting key facets of rural population such as productivity, safety, health benefits, and access to clean water, heating solution and livelihood .
Lighting up rural India :Solar micro and mini grid are logical extensions of standalone solar lighting solutions as they have the capability to provide incremental benefits to households like powering fans, mobile charging, community television, as well as facilitating Internet access etc. Smarter farming through Solar agri-pumps : Another important factor is use of solar powered an economic and environmentally friendly agri-pumps. Till date 26 million agri– pumps are installed in India. Replacement of 1 million diesel pumps could, over its life, improve agricultural output by ₹30,000 crore and mitigate usage of diesel .
New Possible applications : Nagaland recently installed a solar powered water treatment plant in a village near Kohima, which works on an advanced membrane filtration system producing pure drinking water.
Other important applications of solar power include solar-powered basic healthcare centers, solar-powered tablets is transforming the scene of education in rural Karnataka, and solar telecom towers and provides employment and entrepreneurial avenues to rural youth.
Employment for rural semi-skilled : Given the simple and modular nature of solar systems, large number of semi -skilled laborers in rural India can be employed for installation and after sales services of these systems. Solar will thus enhance livelihood prospects, improve efficiency in rural households so come and be a part of nation building.
Sanjith S. Shetty