By Bader Al Lamki
India’s recent power grid failure that left more than 600 million people – nearly 10 percent of the world’s population – without electricity and important services like running water, air-conditioning, traffic lights and the internet provided several important reminders.
Yes, some of the reminders were stark doses of reality, most notably that India’s electrical grid and infrastructure is in need of vast improvements if the country’s ever-growing middleclass populations can expect regular, reliable power.
But the massive blackouts also provided an encouraging reminder: that off-grid renewable energy truly is playing a critical role in sustainable development globally. Ironically, while hundreds of millions of urban, middle class Indians were left powerless, their rural – and formerly energy-poor – countrymen were largely unaffected, thanks in part to rooftop solar photovoltaic systems, and other forms of distributed, off-grid renewable energy. While businessmen in New Delhi couldn’t switch on their lights or turn on the television, farmers in rural Karnataka were able to keep their irrigation pumps on and their air-conditioners firing away.
In times of large-scale energy crises like this, the importance of sustainable energy innovators like Orb Energy – a Zayed Future Energy Prize runner-up in 2012 – become even more clear. It is trailblazers like Orb Energy – an India-based provider of solar PV and solar water heating systems – that will ultimately enable modern energy for the more than 1 billion people across that globe that still lack access. Since 2007, Orb Energy alone has brought solar energy to more than 150,000 people in rural and semi-rural India.
The Zayed Future Energy Prize has recognized several other leaders that are addressing the global challenges of energy security, energy access, and economic development in rural areas. Dipal Barua, a founder of Grameen Shakti, and one of the first winners of the Prize in 2009, has enabled modern, clean energy through solar power and biogas to nearly four million people in rural Bangladesh, one of the most energy-poor nations in the world.
And while sustainable energy pioneers like Mr. Barua and Orb Energy are acknowledged for their efforts to provide energy access to all, we must also remember the life-changing indirect benefits of clean energy that are being enabled: greater opportunity for education, better standards of healthcare, and more prospects for economic growth.
But it shouldn’t take events like catastrophic, society-crippling power-outages in the hottest throws of summer to remind us how important it is to increase overall renewable energy generation – whether for off-grid or grid-tied applications.
Bader Al Lamki is Director of Clean Energy at Masdar and Vice-Chairman of the Zayed Future Energy Prize Selection Committee
Image Credit: PWRDF, Flickr