Martin Wright, in Green Futures’ India: Innovation Nation report, refers to some large-scale projects undertaken by India’s central and state governments in a ‘National Solar Mission’, which aims to harvest the country’s 300 annual average days of sunshine.
Gujarat has Asia’s largest solar park, at Patan, with 214MW installed capacity, and expects to have solar power purchase agreements covering a total of 1.3GW by 2013. Other innovative approaches to solar, include ‘roofing’ some of its major irrigation canals with PV panels, generating power from ‘spare’ space and cutting water loss through evaporation.
However Sachin Joshi, Director of the Confederation of Indian Industry, believes that decentralised energy is the way forward.
“I don’t think the overall energy problem, both in terms of the demand gap and carbon emissions, can be solved if we are still obsessed with huge centralised energy production systems.”
Wright reports the development of decentralised solutions based on solar, biogas, biomass, small-scale hydro and wind being developed by an array of entrepreneurs.
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has an entire programme, ‘Light a Billion Lives’, which develops high-quality lanterns for rental at affordable prices, together with a network of thousands of solar charging stations.
The Karnataka-based NGO, SKDRDP, works with local self-help groups to provide them with a range of clean energy solutions, from solar to biogas, via a carefully constructed micro credit loan system. Martin Wright describes a typical Bihari village, where, until last year, there was no electricity for most villagers before Husk’s biomass-fed grid was installed, enabling people to read in the evening without strain, to charge their mobiles and keep in touch with distant family members.
He reports that Husk’s solar microgrids operate on commercial terms, powering groups of around 40 households from a 300-350W solar supply: “That should give each home enough power for LED lighting, a mobile charge point and even a low-wattage TV, in return for a monthly fee of around INR75-100, which is the same or even less than the average household pays out for kerosene”.
Micro-scale power has other benefits. With a radius of just a few hundred metres, transmission losses are virtually non-existent and with a community power supply the practice of theft from the mains is reduced.
The idea of integrating minigrids into th e national grid is not favoured by Ashden Award-winner Gyanesh Pandey wisely reflects: “In India, the more sophisticated the approach, the harder it is to manage…”. He continues: “The Government says there are 120,000 villages which don’t have good power (it’s probably much more, but let’s take its word for it for now). It would need $5 billion to electrify these 120,000 villages (using a mini-grid model) that’s less than:
- the subsidy to kerosene every year;
- the $6 billion in foreign remittances each year and
- the $6 billion charitable contributions made by Indians in India each year.
He is particularly excited about new ‘quantum dot’ LEDs, which can provide bright light for less than 1W, and a far longer term prospect,’organic’ or ‘spray-on solar’, which he’s exploring in partnership with Iowa State University – using ‘solar spray cans’ marketed for a few hundred rupees and coating roof space with low-efficiency photovoltaic ‘paint’, which would be enough to give basic power.