Solar energy is the new buzz word around with lot of emphasis being given to it. Let’s find out why?
With almost 3 crore people without grid-connected power in rural India, use of archaic energy sources like kerosene, diesel, wood-fired chulhas, etc, are still popular. Such sources are substantial health and environmental hazards. Also, higher dependency of the rural population on them call in for higher subsidy from the government ultimately increasing the cost of energy for the nation.
To quote from the Reuters,
”Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to supply power to every citizen by 2019 and a surge in solar production, reaching remote villages remains a challenge, with distribution losses as high as 30 percent on antiquated lines, low tariffs and limited use.
Most of those without electricity live in the 99 percent of villages the government deems to be electrified because at least 10 percent of households and public places have electricity.
But at least half the electrified households do not get at least six hours of electricity a day.”
The scenario can be greatly improved by utilizing the abundant potential India possess by the virtue of its geographical location. We receive ample sunshine throughout the year. It is an opportunity to compensate the huge infrastructural shortcoming and enhance the dynamics of the society, economy, environment and health of as much as 30 per cent of the country’s population.
Although the idea of harnessing solar energy has been there for quite some time, its actual implementation has been quite low until recent owing to the fact that high costs had compulsorily called in for philanthropic capital or government subsidy in the field.
However the last few years have seen significant drop in capital cost to the extent of about 70 per cent making solar power commercially mainstream. This has attracted a lot of private players too.
Further, solar energy has received great focus from the center under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With a vision of ‘Electricity for all by 2019’, the center has given special emphasis on incentivising distributed solar power.
Many aspects of rural population like health, clean water, livelihood, safety etc., can be touched owing to the modular and decentralized characteristic of solar power.
Solar lighting, reduces the significantly the health hazards by providing an alternate to the conventional kerosene lamps. Also the provision for lighting for additional hours per day increases the daily productivity and enhances the rural household income. Some studies suggest that about 4 to 5 hours of additional lighting can take up the income up by nearly 30 per cent!
Earlier these systems have been funded by government but now, most products are commercially available with many private players venturing into the field, with funding from MFIs.
The progress has moved from independent solar energy based lighting systems to micro and mini solar based grids having the capability to provide extra benefits to households like powering fans, mobile charging, community television, as well as facilitating Internet access etc.
Solar micro grid based pay per use energy solution is becoming quite popular in villages today. Simpa Networks and OMC power have set outstanding examples of the same in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Solar Agri Pumps
Solar agri pumps are another very important application having potency to greatly improve the throughput of Indian farmers. India has over a quarter million agri pumps and over 20 percent of them are diesel operated. Using a Solar powered pump gives an economic alternative. To add up, they are also clean and eco-friendly.
Although many times more costly compared to the conventional pumps, these save enough to mitigate the cost in less than half a decade. Also there are various subsidies offered by the central and various state governments to promote the usage of solar agri pumps
Conventional fuel like coal, cooking gas, kerosene, firewood, dung cakes and agricultural wastes are in wide use in villages even today. Some of these fuels are non-renewable and hence their stocks are depleting (coal, kerosene, cooking gas) and some are too precious to be wasted for cooking purposes (cow dung can be better used as manure for improving soil fertility). Wood, kerosene and coal have health and environmental hazard attached to their usage while cooking gas is not very easily accessible to the remotest of villages. This necessitates the use of solar energy for cooking purposes.
Solar cookers can be of a simple flat plate box type design consisting of an insulated metal or wooden box. The box is blackened from inside. It is covered using double glass covers. Additional reflectors may be used to enhance the heating effect of a solar cooker
There is no fuel requirement while cooking food and it is non-polluting and no adverse effect to health. On the contrary, cooking in a solar cooker even does not require much attention as there is no charring or overflowing of food. Also, the food is more nutritious as the vitamins and natural tastes of the food remain intact.
Other Possible Applications of Solar Energy
Solar energy can be used to provide clean water in villages. Cleansing of water consumes energy and solar power is slowly making progress in this application too. In Nagaland a solar powered membrane filtration based water treatment plant was installed to provide clean drinking water in Tsiesma, a village near Kohima.
Another great example is from Karnataka where the rural education is already set to transform thanks to solar powered tablets developed by edZilla. Internet connectivity, telecom connectivity, television network are other fields that can benefit from solar power.
Rural employment can increase if solar plants, mini or micro grids or even independent set ups are established. Solar-powered basic healthcare centers can help support rural welfare. Solar powered mobile health units can help reach many more villages in the remotest of the corners.
The socio-economic canvas of rural India can be repainted by adopting solar as an alternate source of energy.
The government has a crucial role in development of new and affordable technologies to harness solar energy. Also, efforts need to be made in educating and making the rural masses of the benefits of switching to solar.
Additionally, private player can also rise up to the occasion and support the government initiatives.