India is out to conquer the solar energy world

105 20
India has set its sights on becoming a world leader in solar power. India is a large country and many of the rural communities are so remote as to be completely off the grid. It is also a country plagued by poverty. Power supply is one of the key factors in alleviating poverty and empowering people, which is why it's such a contentious issue in all countries that are caught between developed and developing nation status. India intends correcting the balance through its Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, which, it hopes, will be able to generate 20GW of solar power by 2022.

The mission is supported by the Special Incentive Package (SIP) policy designed to promote construction of solar plants, as well as the components of solar power systems. The IREDA (Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency) is doing its bit by providing low-interest loans for companies looking to develop any aspect of solar technology.

Which is all well and good in theory, but a year into the mission and developers are finding the going difficult.

Natalie Obiko Pearson says that companies are in danger of missing the deadlines that are necessary to keep the ambitious programme on track. The problem has to do with finance. Despite the intentions of the IREDA, banks aren't keen to lend money to companies that want to get into solar power. Not enough is known about the long-term financial prospects for the industry in India, so it's considered something of a risk.

Without the financial backing, companies can't sign on contractors (for which the deadline is 31 May) and without contractors construction can't start and the situation snowballs.

But all is not lost for India's remotest communities.

Barefoot College is a non-government organisation that strives to improve living conditions in India's poorest and most deprived villages. It's been operating since 1972 and oversees projects relating to water conservation, education, healthcare, skills creation and solar energy.

In terms of its solar energy wing, the college dispatches teams to poverty stricken communities to introduce them to the idea of solar power. According to the website, this means they place "the fabrication, installation, usage, repair and maintenance of sophisticated solar lighting units in the hands of rural, illiterate and semi-literate men and women".

Solar energy is not forced on villages, which retain control the whole time. They decide if they want solar power and then they elect a Village Environment Energy Committee (VEEC) comprised of village members (male and female). The VEEC decides which houses will receive the solar power systems and also chooses one or two "Barefoot Solar Engineers" (BSEs), who will take charge of installation, maintenance and repair of the systems.

Only families that can afford to pay affordable monthly contributions are allowed to receive the systems. The purpose of the contribution is three-fold: it provides a sense of ownership, it covers a small stipend paid to the BSEs, and a portion is saved for spares and repair costs. The amount payable is based on how much families spend on current energy requirements, such as wood, kerosene, candles and batteries.

So, while India may have encountered some growing pains in its large-scale solar energy mission, small-scale operations are doing just fine.
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