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How to Effectively Modernize Rural India Using Solar Power

A man cooks using solar in Zanskar, India.

While China holds the top spot for most populated country with 1.3 billion people, India is a close second with 1.2. While the country is still rapidly industrializing, much of it remains rural and lacks even basic infrastructure. Times are rapidly changing, though, as solar power stands to revolutionize the country and bring even the most remote areas of India into the twenty-first century. The question still stands, however, as to what must continue to happen for the solar revolution to really take hold in India. Here's how  to keep rural India on the road its already traveling. 

Keep Solar Affordable

Writing for ThinkProgress.org, Andrew Satter claims to have glimpsed the future of energy for the rural poor in India and said the most important factor is affordability. With rural India in extreme poverty, costs need to stay low for solar installations to remain viable. The United Nations Environmental Program is hoping to make this happen by encouraging local and national banks to finance small loans. The loans, which usually range from around $300 to $500, cover everything needed to get a solar PV module up and running for a single household.

Disrupt the Status Quo

Much of India’s rural poor rely on dated energy sources such as kerosene lamps and household stoves to light and heat their homes. Not only does this cause increased levels of pollution, but it’s also highly ineffective as sources are limited. Despite India’s building of large, heavy-polluting centralized power plants, nearly 400 million of its citizens are still without power. According to Satter, India simply can’t continue on a path of heavily reliance on these outdated energy sources. He cites the International Energy Agency’s prediction that maintain the status quo in an attempt to solve India’s energy woes would leave nearly a billion people without power by 2030.

Remain Hopeful Regarding the Modi Government’s Commitment to Solar

With the swearing in of new Prime Minister Narendra Modi in late May of this year, the government reaffirmed its serious commitment to solar energy. Modi’s goal is to have every household run at least one light bulb by 2019. It’s an ambitious goal, though it looks to be entirely achievable. The government is aggressively pursuing the National Solar Mission, which would, by 2022, install 20,000MW of grid-connected solar power capacity and 2,000MW of distributed solar power capacity. If these goals are met, the country would be well on its way to renewable energy for all.

Foster Growth, but Manage Expectations

India absolutely needs to get rural communities powered up with renewable energy, and it’s clear that’s beginning to happen. Satter points to two companies, Simpa Energy and OMC Power, that have already made incredible strides in providing renewable solar to rural India, and both project a substantial amount of growth by the end of the year. To truly be successful, though, those attempting to modernize rural India through solar need to have a certain level of pragmatism. Getting loans from banks for projects that focus exclusively on the poor can be difficult, according to Satter, and world energy demand is set to increase by a third by 2035 making supplying it all the more crucial and urgent. While these challenges can seem daunting, India is still well on its way to making solar energy for all in its rural areas a reality. 

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