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Signs from Above

Yes, the electricity grid has reached a large part of the country. But supply is unreliable and of poor quality. Access to electricity (or lack thereof) is a big problem in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Odisha and Jharkhand. Some of these states – UP, Bihar and West Bengal – are the largest users of decentralised solar applications for lighting. 
 
So now, what is the way ahead? How is India going to close the gap between light and darkness, using renewable sources of energy? Industry experts, business heads, government representatives and civil society activists recently answered these questions. They had convened at the ‘Anil Agarwal Dialogue’, an annual event organised by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). This year’s theme: Energy Access and Renewable Energy. GT had to be on this platform to bring you the latest. So here is what we learned, how renewable energy is solving our energy crisis and how we can scale things up. 
 
Renewable energy sources have seen more than the light of day in India. In fact, we discovered that the 11th Five Year Plan is considered a success with regards to renewable energy. Not only because the cost of generating renewable energy fell, but also because there was a significant growth in installed capacity of renewable energy sources.
Now that is good news. So why aren’t we dancing on the rooftops and celebrating? Because there remains a long way to go. At the Anil Agarwal Dialogue (AAD), amidst the discussions and debates, two ways emerged as possible up-scaling measures for renewable energy in India.
 
1.  Decentralised solar energy/ community-owned power plants
Also known as mini and micro-grids. These are solar power plants set up in a village attached to a micro grid that supplies power to all households of the village. The grid is owned, operated, maintained and paid for by the village community. 
 
What the experts say:
“Small renewable based solutions, like micro-grids, targeting kerosene and diesel substitution are reaching viability with little or no subsidy. World Bank is in the process of rolling out micro-grid based electrifications in seven districts in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.” 
Anshuman Lath, co-Founder and Director of Gram Oorja Solutions Pvt. Ltd. Gram Oorja has been working in decentralised renewable energy systems since 2008.
 
“Success of these renewable energy systems is defined differently by different people. For me, all that matters is that we make these households happy. Harish, a 21-year-old young man from West Champaran in Bihar, was able to charge his mobile phone using our solar energy system. He used his phone to buy a laptop on Flipkart. He landed up as a top story in a leading national daily!”
Jyoti Dar, Founder-director of Kuvam Energy Pvt. Ltd. 
Kuvam Energy is a social enterprise dealing in renewable energy systems.
 
“It is about capitalising on the untapped potential of renewable energy. We have more than 300 days of solar insulation. And if we can utilise the wasteland area, we have in India, for renewable energy generation, we can meet all our energy needs.”
Praveen Saxena, Advisor to Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
 
2.  Rooftop solar in the city
Rooftop solar photovoltaic panels are small power plants set up on the roof of a house that generates electricity that can be consumed by the household directly. It may or may not be connected to the grid. This means that the cities can step in too, for the cause of solar. The 12th Five-Year Plan envisions 15 new solar cities in the country.
 
What the experts say: 
“It has to become a matter of town planning. Municipalities, distribution utilities and local administration have to make renewable energy generation their priority when planning and monitoring cities. It has to be imbibed into building codes.” 
Usha Ramachandra, Professor and 
Area Chairperson of Energy, Administrative Staff College 
of India.
 
“Every rooftop can be a power plant. Renewables are expensive compared to fossil fuels today, but they will become cheaper tomorrow. The benefits of moving to renewables are immense – energy security, climate protection, reduced pollution and health benefits.” 
Sunita Narain
Director General, CSE.
 
Conclusion 
So these are our solutions. Successes and failures aside, there is a lot planned. When looking at renewable 
energy expansion in India, we cannot ignore the 
fact that rural electrification is still significantly lacking. Neither can we forget that supply to even grid connected areas is not completely reliable. 
So decentralised solar power plants in rural areas and individual solar plants on rooftops in urban areas don’t seem like such farfetched ideas, do they?
 
Up in the air 
 
Sixty seven years since India’s independence and still, close to 
700 million Indians depend on firewood for cooking,using traditional choolhas (cook stoves). India has a long way to go before every household has access to clean cooking fuel. Use of dirty cooking fuel has been responsible for killing 3.5 million women and children each year, according to a 2013 International Energy Agency report. “We need an energy transition where health is not negotiable,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, Programme Director - sustainable cities and urban mobility, CSE, “One of the possible ways forward is electrical cooking linked with the expansion of mini and micro grids.”
 

 

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Signs from Above