Back in August, the largest blackout in history affected between 600-700 million Indians, roughly 10 percent of the world’s population. Researchers estimate that another 300 million Indians lack access to electricity. Despite an economy that’s been one of the fastest developing and growing in the world, it’s clear that energy access and energy security still pose critical economic, social and environmental challenges for the Indian government, society and commerce and industry.
The collective choices and decisions Indians make regarding energy supply and demand will either set the nation on a path of ongoing and increasing fossil fuel reliance and dependency or a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable path of development centered on more local, distributed power generation from cleaner, renewable energy sources.
With developing nations predicted to account for the large majority of human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as economic growth out to 2050 and beyond, the ramifications of their choices will extend well beyond India’s borders. One thing appears clear and certain, emulating the fossil fuel, water and natural resource-intensive and consumption-driven development path of the U.S. would not only be unsustainable, it would be doomed to failure in the first place, potentially wreaking havoc across India and beyond.
Setting the course for India’s future energy supply and demand
Fortunately for all, many Indians are well aware of these issues and challenges, including at least some of the country’s political leaders. On June 30, 2008 the Indian government launched a National Action Plan on Climate Change. Part and parcel was the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, a strategic mechanism to incentivize and support development solar power throughout the country.
“Our vision is to make India’s economic development energy-efficient. Over a period of time, we must pioneer a graduated shift from economic activity based on fossil fuels to one based on non-fossil fuels and from reliance on non-renewable and depleting sources of energy to renewable sources of energy. In this strategy, the sun occupies centre-stage, as it should, being literally the original source of all energy,” Indian Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh stated upon introducing the National Solar Mission.
“We will pool our scientific, technical and managerial talents, with sufficient financial resources, to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people. Our success in this endeavour will change the face of India. It would also enable India to help change the destinies of people around the world.”
Blackout leads to critical crossroads
Since enacting the National Solar Mission, India has quickly grown to become one the world’s leading and largest markets for solar energy. August’s massive blackout puts pressure on the government to increase power generation capacity and upgrade grid infrastructure.
Long reliant on coal-fired power plants for the large majority of national power generation, powerful coal and fossil fuel energy commercial interests are using the blackout to push for the development of more coal mines and coal-fired power plants. Similarly, Indian and overseas solar, wind and renewable energy technology providers and project developers are keen to expand India’s power generation capacity. Striking a sustainable balance between meeting immediate needs and those of future generations is no easy task, certainly for elected public representatives in open, democratic societies where the wealth of multinational corporations exceeds that of many nations.
Looking to promote and foster local clean energy self-sufficiency, the government of Punjab has launched a program that aims to have Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power Packs installed in households across the state. Solar energy potential is vast in the state. Bordering Pakistan in western India, Punjab benefits from having more than 330 sunny days in an average year.
Potential solar energy is estimated at 4-7 kilowatt-hours per square meter, and the government is committed to realizing that potential, Minister for Non-Conventional Energy Bikram Singh Majithia was quoted as saying in a Business Standard news report.
Promoting home solar energy in the Punjab
With approval and financial support from India’s Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, the Punjab government has set up Akshey Urja retail shops in all state districts where people can purchase the Solar Photovoltaic Power Packs with a 30 percent government subsidy.
Ranging in capacity from 500 watts peak to 1,000 watts peak, the solar power packs produce clean, emissions-free renewable electricity sufficient to meet basic household needs.
Hyderabad solar energy systems provider RenewAbility offers Indian households Solar PV Power Packs that are complete, turnkey home solar power systems. They include an array of PV panels that can be roof or ground-mounted, a PV charge controller, battery bank for energy storage a DC-AC power inverter and an optional connection to the grid.
The Indian solar energy start-up sees itself not only as a provider of clean energy technology, but as a social enterprise committed to promoting sustainable living in communities across the Indian sub-continent.
Extending beyond its Solar Power Packs, RenewAbility is taking a whole-systems approach to home energy production and use in India. On the supply side, it offers small wind and bio-energy as well as solar PV systems. On the home energy demand side, it offers energy efficiency and home energy technology including LED lighting and energy-efficient appliances and gadgets.
Homegrown entrepreneurial renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses such as these point the way toward healthier, sustainable economic growth and development and a brighter future for Indians, as well as the vast wealth of ecosystems and biodiversity for which the Indian subcontinent is home.
*Photo credit: First Solar