In this May 25, 2011 photograph, Sharan Pinto installs a solar panel antenna on the roof top of a house in Nidle village, on the outskirts of Manglore, India. Across India, thousands of homes are receiving their first light through small companies and aid programs that are bypassing the central electricity grid to deliver solar panels to the rural poor. Those customers could provide the human energy that advocates of solar power have been looking for to fuel a boom in the next decade. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
India (AP) — Boommi Gowda used to fear the night. Her vision fogged by
glaucoma, she could not see by just the dim glow of a kerosene lamp, so
she avoided going outside where king cobras slithered freely and tigers
carried off neighborhood dogs.
things have changed at Gowda’s home in the remote southern village of
Nada. A solar-powered lamp pours white light across the front of the
mud-walled hut she shares with her three grown children, a puppy, and a
newborn calf. Now she can now cook, tend to her livestock, and get water
from a nearby well at night.
can see!” Gowda says, giggling through a 100-W smile. In her 70
years, this is the first time she has had any kind of electricity.
India, thousands of homes are receiving their first light through small
companies and aid programs that are bypassing the central electricity
grid to deliver solar panels to the rural poor. Those customers could
provide the human energy that advocates of solar power have been looking
for to fuel a boom in the next decade.
40% of India’s rural households lacking electricity and nearly a
third of its 30 million agricultural water pumps running on subsidized
diesel, “there is a huge market and a lot of potential,” said Santosh
Kamath, executive director of consulting firm KPMG in India. “Decentralized
solar installations are going to take off in a very big way and will
probably be larger than the grid-connected segment.”
door to the Gowdas, 58-year-old Iramma, who goes by one name, frowned
as she watched her neighbors light their home for the first time. At her
house, electrical wiring dangles uselessly from the walls.
said her family would wait for the grid. They’ve already given hundreds
of dollars to an enterprising electrician who wired her house and
promised service would come. They shouldn’t have to pay even more money
for solar panels, she insisted.
she softened after her 16-year-old son interrupted to complain he was
struggling in school because he cannot study at night like his
are very much frustrated,” she says. “The children are very anxious.
They ask every day, ‘Why don’t we have power like other people?’ So if
the grid doesn’t come in a month, maybe we will get solar, too.”
decades of robust economic growth, there are still at least 300 million
Indians—a quarter of the 1.2 billion population—who have no access
to electricity at home. Some use cow dung for fuel, but they more
commonly rely on kerosene, which commands premium black-market prices
when government supplies run out.
They scurry during daylight to finish housework and school lessons. They wait for grid connections that often never come.
people who live day-by-day on wage labor and what they harvest from the
land choose solar, they aren’t doing it to conserve fossil fuels, stop
climate change, or reduce their carbon footprints. To them, solar
technology presents an elegant and immediate solution to powering
everything from light bulbs and heaters to water purifiers and pumps.
In this May 24, 2011 photograph, Parvin Yeyyada works with electric wiring as Boommi Gowda looks on during the installation of solar power in her house in Nada, a village near the southwest Indian port of Mangalore. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
frustration is part of our motivation. Why are we so arrogant in
deciding what the poor need and when they should get it?” said Harish
Hande, managing director of Selco Solar Light Pvt. Ltd.
company, which is owned by three foreign aid organizations, has fitted
solar panels to 125,000 rural homes in Karnataka state, including the
Gowdas’, outside the west coast port of Mangalore.
the technology to low-income customers is not easy. They need help with
everything from setting up their first bank accounts and negotiating
loans to navigating the fine print of payment contracts.
find new clients, agents must go door-to-door in remote settlements,
sometimes crossing rivers, hiking mountains, or wading through wetlands
to reach them.
the sales pitch leads to reliable profits. Solar panels take little
space on a rooftop, the lights burn brighter than kerosene lamps and
they don’t start forest fires or get snuffed in strong winds. Unlike
central power, solar units don’t get rationed or cut.
solar panels is more expensive than grid electricity, but for people
off the grid it compares well with other options. One of Selco’s
single-panel solar systems goes for about $360, the same or less than a
year’s supply of black-market kerosene. And government subsidies mean
customers actually pay less than $300.
two years, India’s government hopes the off-grid solar yield will
quadruple to 200 megawatts—enough to power millions of rural Indian
homes with modest energy needs.
Gowda’s family signed up for its solar system within weeks of seeing
one at the home of neighbor Babu Gowda, who is not related but shares
the common regional last name.
kerosene, you have to carry the lamp around wherever you go. The light
is dim, and smoke fills the room and spoils the paint,” says Babu Gowda,
a sprightly 59-year-old.
finally decided on solar after losing his dog to a tiger from the
neighboring national park. Now light from his home wards off predators.
kept waiting and thinking the grid would come, and after years I was
angry. But now I’m thrilled,” he says. “Now we have light. We can move
on, maybe expand with another solar panel and get a TV.”
predicted for India’s solar market is not unlike the recent explosion
in cell phones, as villagers and slum-dwellers alike embraced mobile
technology over lumbering landline connections. There is now at least
one mobile phone link for every two people in the country.
government has pushed for manufacturers and entrepreneurs to seize the
opportunity. Its solar mission—an 11-year, $19 billion plan of
credits, consumer subsidies, and industry tax breaks to encourage
investment—is fast becoming a centerpiece of its wider goal for
renewable sources, including wind and small hydropower, to make up 20% of India’s supply by 2020. Solar alone would provide 6%—a huge leap, since it makes up less than 1% of the 17 gigawatts
India gets from renewables alone. The federal government leads a massive
campaign titled “Light a Billion Lives” to distribute 200 million
solar-powered lanterns to rural homes, while also supporting the
creation of so-called “solar cities” with self-contained micro-grids in
areas where supply is short.
Solar power is making inroads in smaller ways as well.
Nada, some schools send students home with solar-charged flashlights to
study at night, and the temple town of Dharmasthala, visited by 10,000
pilgrims a day, offers free water purified through solar filtration.
Hindu temple in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh boasts one of the
world’s largest solar-powered kitchens, preparing 30,000 meals a day,
while western Gujarat state has experimented with a solar crematorium.
Even in the Himalayan frontier state of Arunachal Pradesh, where the
sunshine is not India’s brightest, Buddhist monks have installed solar
panels to heat water at the 330-year Tawang Monastery.
panels are becoming a must-have luxury item on dowry lists, even for
those who have electricity but are annoyed by power cuts. And the
capital of New Delhi requires hotels, hospitals and banquet halls to
have solar water-heating systems.
Tata Power, India’s energy giant and main supplier of coal-sourced grid
power, is eyeing the off-grid market while it plans large solar and
wind installations to feed into the network.
and distributed power from renewables is where we see a lot of growth.
There are many suitable technologies. All that’s needed are
entrepreneurs,” Tata’s chief sustainability officer Avinash Patkar said.
government is desperate to expand its energy options as its fast-moving
economy faces chronic electricity shortages. Last year’s 10%
shortfall is expected to increase to 16% this year, according to
the Central Electricity Authority. Within 25 years, India must increase
electricity production fivefold to keep up with its own development and
demand, the World Bank says.
is planning new nuclear plants and quickly building more coal-firing
plants, but it’s also working to take better advantage of its renewable
energy opportunities. It has been named the world’s third most
attractive destination for renewable energy investment, after the U.S.
and China, according to two separate reports by global consulting firms
KPMG and Ernst & Young.
states like Gujarat and Rajasthan get the full brunt of the sun, with
famed deserts and scrublands filled with sand dunes, camels and
residents who spend hours fetching water from wells. These states are
luring big projects for solar fields to plug into the grid.
most new grid capacity will be sucked up by industry, leaving little
for the poor who live in off-grid desert outcrops, mountain hamlets and
jungle villages like Nada. For them, the surest way to get electricity
anytime soon may be to get a solar panel and make it themselves.
Babu, a 51-year-old laborer who supplements his wages by tapping sap
from rubber trees, finally stopped waiting for the grid when he saw his
14-year-old son’s eyes tearing as he tried to read by lamp.
“My children are too important,” Babu says as the sun set in Nidle village, about 10 km (six miles) south of Nada.
it is so dark not even moonlight cuts through the dense canopy of palms
overhead. But on the family’s first night with solar electricity, the
house was ablaze.
The family took turns praying, elated they could see the Hindu icons of Lords Krishna and Ganesh by the light.
school starts again, I am ready now to get high scores,” Babu’s son
Suresh says. “I couldn’t see the words in the book before, with the
smoke and the tears.”
the lights on, Suresh grabbed his sketchbook, filled with fanciful
drawings of tigers, hippos, flowers and water jugs. He opened to a blank
page and quickly outlined a modest house like his own, complete with a
neatly swept yard and jungle gardens growing wild.
He finished by drawing the small box of a solar panel atop the roof.
SOURCE: The Associated Press
In this May 24, 2011 photograph, Pushpa Gowda right, makes Bidi, a low-grade tobacco, as she sits with her mother Boommi Gowda, left and brother Ubay Gowda after they installed solar light in their house. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)