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How the power of the sun can bring light to thousands of rural households in India

Marianne Heinisch
16th Sep 2013
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Electricity is essential to meet the basic needs of a developing economy. However, India has a history of power cuts, and an unreliable grid infrastructure capacity. Heavily polluting and expensive diesel generators are currently being used to supply electricity when the grid fails. Nearly 400 million rural people still lack access to electricity. This situation is only get worse because economic growth demands more energy and this demand is expected to double by 2030. Most rural residents have their health threatened by pollution while using kerosene or firewood for cooking and lighting.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates India needs an investment of at least $135 billion to provide the energy needs of its population. However, it has a significant potential of renewable energy power generation, with solar energy being the highest attractiveness source in the country, and is among the 15 most attractive countries for clean energy. According to this study by professors Hiremath Mitavachan and Jayaraman Srinivasan of Divecha Centre for Climate Change from the Indian Institute of Science, India’s energy needs can be met entirely by solar and other renewable sources.

Their analysis says 4.1 per cent of the total uncultivable and waste land area in India is enough to meet the projected annual demand of 3,400 terawatt – hour (TWh) by 2070 by solar energy alone. The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) researchers’ conclusion says there is more than enough suitable land in India with high direct beam solar to meet the entire nation’s electricity needs in principle. Nowadays, India has 66 solar parks with a potential cumulative of 1190 MWP, meaning 8.2 per cent share of the worldwide potential.

Due to the severe economic and social consequences of such energy deficiency, providing access to clean energy to the entire Indian population is a priority, but this inclusion has been the great challenge of public policies in the energy sector. However, the Indian territory gets more than 300 days of direct sun radiation incidence per year, becoming a very suitable place to generate solar energy. Solar energy intensity varies geographically with Western Rajasthan receiving the highest annual radiation energy and the north-eastern regions receiving the least.

Government initiatives and schemes for solar development

In 2010, the Indian government adopted the goal of generating 20,000 MW through solar energy. The country already uses 140MW from this clean source and many Indian companies are installing solar panels on the plains of northwest states, facilitated by a drop in prices and increase of subsidies. The government has also proposed that Rajasthan becomes the largest center for solar energy in the country and aims to develop plants totaling 4000 MW. In July, that State became the second to be operating more than 500 MW of solar energy.

Indian government is investing to foster and develop solar energy technologies. Last August, it declared a plan to roll out Rs 43,000-crore on a ‘green energy corridor’ project. It shall facilitate the flow of renewable energy into the country’s grid and will be built across seven states over the next five to six years within Germany’s assistance, which has promised to provide developmental and technical assistance of € 1 billion. As part of the government’s 12th five-year plan, it aims to connect the southern grid to the national grid by 2014 to create the single largest transmission grid in the world. National Solar Mission

Another great solar energy project will impact thousands of people in India and reflects the concern with clean energy sources usage. The crowded Indian trains will receive air conditioning systems powered by solar energy. The Indian Railway company, in a partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology – Madras (IITM) will make efforts to bring more efficient lighting to their trains, increasing the comfort and safety of passengers during travel.

This revolutionary invention will be introduced into train coaches throughout the country: IITM will design and build train compartments with solar panels on their top, which will channel directly into the power supply, providing coaches with clean, solar energy. The Indian Railways is still heavily dependent on diesel and grid electricity to power its trains and is among the largest users of energy in the country.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) – Launched in 2010, it aims to achieve 20 GW of solar power by 2022 – in part through the installation of photo voltaic systems on rooftops. This measure achieves the dual goal of government is to provide electricity to rural communities and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in India. Several Indian states like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana are also encouraging the development of clean energy sector, establishing standards for state standards, requiring that part of the energy is generated by the sun, wind or other renewable sources.

The NSM places India to become a global leader in the growth of concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies. In contrast to photo voltaic technology (PV), CSP use mirrored concentrator systems to focus solar radiation directly into black receivers. They convert thermal energy into mechanical energy through a steam turbine, and then into electricity. However, one of the possible barriers for CSP in India might be the high initial cost and lack of easy and consistent financing options. For solar energy to achieve significant penetration at the market, millions of solar concentrator systems’ square meters, along with the entire support and infrastructure, will have to be made.

Indian solar market potential

Rural townships and villages are an immense market for solar energy technologies. A target for electrifying such villages was fixed by the government and even achieved at some places. Such steps will help to meet the target of ‘Power to all’ set by Government.

Creative and low-cost technologies created by innovative local help solve poverty problems in the country and social business models are finding and increasing market, especially in rural areas. Mainly they sell devices to meet basic lighting and cooking solutions, household energy systems and off-grid energy solutions delivered to large communities, serving rural energy needs, and thereby empowering people at the grass roots level.

Several social enterprises have recognized the potential of this technology and are engaged in making it a significant factor in the economy of a developing country. Gadhia Solar, for example, became the world’s largest manufacturer of solar kitchens, and their devices are changing the lives of 20 villages in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Azure Power, Barefoot Power, D Light, Gram Power, Grameen Foundation, Onergy, Orb Energy and Sunkalp are examples of social companies struggling to develop and deliver solar affordable lighting, solar water heating and cooking systems, electrification, street lights and many other products based in this renewable energy source. Azure Power, for instance, has in its hands 40 MW of allotted solar power capacity under the National Solar Mission’s total allocation of 500 MW. The Azure Power project in Gujarat was the first MW scale solar power project under the Gujarat State Policy using non-recourse financing.

Development of solar energy can increase energy security by diversifying supply, reducing import dependence, and mitigating fuel price volatility. Its development in India can also be an important tool for spurring regional economic development, particularly for many underdeveloped states, which have the greatest potential for developing solar power systems which is unlimited and clean source of energy. In addition, renewable energy would not only create millions of jobs, but also sustain India’s positive economic growth and help lift its massive population out of poverty.

Picture courtesy: www.commodityonline.com

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