7 August 2009: India sets out dramatic solar plans

The Indian government has published an extremely ambitious plan to install 20GW of solar technology by 2020 – for both electricity generation and water heating. The International Energy Agency predicts that the total global solar capacity will be 27Gw in 2020, so this would mean that India had 75% of the total. The Indian target for 2040 is 200Gw. The meeting that finalised the plan was chaired by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, so it is clear that it has the full political support of the government.

However, as those of us who live in the UK know only too well, it is easy for governments to set ambitious targets, but much more difficult for the targets to be met. This target is not impossible to reach – Spain added 3Gw of solar capacity in 2008 alone – and India has no shortage of sunlight. Nor is it short of entrepreneurs who are keen to manufacture, install and operate solar energy technologies. However, solar power is still more expensive that coal, which India also has in abundance (see India – climate and energy statistics). As the Indians rightly say, Europe and North America have grown rich by burning fossil fuels, thereby damaging the climate (see 26 May 2009: Fairness for India and China). Therefore, the Indian government wants rich nations to pay most of the cost of its solar expansion.

And we should.

Most Indians in rural areas still do not get electricity or gas from the grid. So most cook using wood, charcoal, dung and crop residues, and each year hundreds of thousands of them – mostly women and young children – die from the resulting indoor air pollution. Solar cookers would remedy this and are a proven technology.

I am involved with an ambitious project to make solar cookers available, at affordable prices, to millions of Indian households by 2015, by bringing together funds from the developed world, entrepreneurs in India to make and distribute the cookers and the communities themselves. The project will also try to make available solar lanterns (see, for example, Science Daily: Bright Future with Solar Lanterns for India’s Poor), household solar systems and small-scale grids, which can supply power to households and small enterprises. In addition, the intention is to make available anaerobic digesters to turn food waste, manure and sewage into biogas, which can be used either for cooking, heating or electricity generation.

There is no better example of how we do not need to choose between health, wealth, happiness and climate protection. We can have all of them.


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