By Krishna B:
Throughout last week, pro-environment protestors have been indulging in non-violent action across the globe urging world leaders to break free from Fossil fuels. But unlike developed countries like the US, developing and underdeveloped countries have to tread a thin line between development and environmental protection. The two have been antithetical to each other and it was the basis of the opposition of the developing nations against stricter environmental regulations. With the effects of climate change becoming imminent, the historic Paris Agreement signalled the shift of the developing countries from such a position towards sustainability and emission cuts.
Transition to clean energy is an imminent necessity and unabated use of fossil fuels leads to long ranging effects from increased frequency and intensity of natural calamities to health degradation due to direct exposure. India, where several million people are poor and vulnerable to such effects, cannot afford to continue its emissions. Taking them into consideration, the government has set a target of 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022.
On the other hand, more than six decades after independence, 18,452 villages in India still remain in the dark (as of April 2015). According to government reports, only 42 percent of all Indian villages have been electrified so far. But reports suggest that quite a few of these villages have no electrical infrastructure. Most are difficult to bring to the grid due to inaccessibility, distance or terrain. In such a situation, temporary off-grid solutions are required to achieve the electrification targets.
Dharnai is a village in the Jehanabad district of Bihar with 2400 residents. For the past 30 years, the village had absolutely no electricity. Greenpeace India spent about three crores in constructing the 100 kW solar powered microgrid which now provides electricity 24/7 to about 450 households and 50 commercial establishments making it the country’s first fully solar-powered village. Dharnai was later connected to the main grid.
It should be noted that such microgrids may not be a permanent clean alternative. In order to significantly impact emissions, there has to be a shift in overall energy production towards renewables.
But the Dharnai model could be replicated in suitable villages as a buffer where currently the connection to the grid is a physical difficulty. Besides, acquisition of required equipment from within the country could create a demand and positively impact manufacturing sector which would increase the need for skill training and improve job creation in this sector.
India has miles to go in achieving its clean energy targets. Reports suggest that there is not enough investment for reaching its ambitious targets. Decentralised Solar Micro-Grids could not be the permanent solution to India’s energy needs and environmental woes but it could well be the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era in India in its march toward sustainable development.