Cultural Crossroads

What I think is so interesting about traveling in a place like India is that the country is at cultural crossroads.

On one hand, you have women washing clothes on rocks, ox-powered wells (that’s me riding behind the ox, fearful that he was going to poop on me!), and foot-pedal threshers for rice.

On the other hand, you have satellite dishes perched on the roofs of wooden shacks, cells phone in the hands of rickshaw drivers, and chickens roosting on solar-panels. In fact, I find the country’s enthusiastic adoption of solar power particularly interesting.

Harnessing the Sun

Densely populated and with a high sun exposure (averaging 300+ sunny days), India has the two ingredients to make solar power an attractive option for energy generation. Already considered a leader in wind-power generation, the Indian government is now embracing solar options.

Two years ago, India announced a “National Solar Mission” to generate 1,000 MW of power by 2013. That same year, India adopted a US$19 billion plan to produce 20 GW of solar power by 2020. I’m not exactly sure how much 20 GW is, but it seems like a lot(!) Reports indicate that solar power could cover all of India’s projects energy demands in 2015.

A couple of economic factors are also spurring India’s adoption of solar power:

  • Falling prices of PV panels make the costs of adopting a solar alternative much cheaper, especially in light of increase grid power costs.
  • India’s furious pace of economic growth is causing a huge electricity deficit (as much as 13% a day) that needs to be filled.

Indian Ingenuity

One drawback is that land is a scarce in India, especially per capita land availability. This means the best placement of solar panels is on the roofs of individual homes. The logistics of coordinating this on a country-wide level seem insurmountable (especially if you’ve witnessed Indian administration in action!)

Which means it will be up to each individual household to access solar power. Luckily, there is an affordable option. A Bangalore company is selling solar energy on a “progressive purchase” basis. It works like this:

Customers make a small down payment for a high quality solar system and then pre-pay for the service in increments, basically topping up their account each month through user-defined increments on their cell phones. So each month, a family can buy the amount of electricity it will need for that month: a pay-as-you-go system of energy consumption!

I think this is an ingenious approach to helping individuals’ access affordable solar power – all without the interference of a national electricity distribution system. Smart!

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This entry was posted on Saturday, February 4th, 2012 and is filed under Hearth.

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