One can’t help thinking that the Industrial Revolution missed the solar bus. Vast areas of the world – the entire tropical belt and a portion of the temperate belts - are blessed to receive plenty of sunshine throughout the year.
We were wise enough to realize that no life could exist on Earth but for the Sun. But we were too short-sighted to realize the bountiful, clean resource that was always on offer.
At present you'll find only scattered, limited use of solar cookers, solar water heaters, solar street lighting and solar lanterns for homes, in pockets across India. With ever-growing worries on the climate front, the Sun literally offers us several rays of hope.
And the Indian Government’s National Action Plan on Climate Change has outlined just such a plan – called National Solar Mission- to tap the sun’s offer of heat and light. Over the past few days since the plan was approved (in principle by the Prime Minister on 3 Aug 2009) it has been termed ambitious, audacious, tentative, massive and impressive.
The figures below show just why:
· India’s present generating capacity is about 150 GW, of which the solar component is next to negligible
· 487 million Indians live without electricity, their living spaces plunging into darkness at 6 pm.
· The current five-year plan (2007-2012) had aimed to add about 70,000 MW of conventionally generated electricity, but is unlikely to reach even half that figure by 2012.
· The solar energy plan envisages a solar capacity increase to 20 GW by 2020, 100 GW by 2030 and 200 GW by 2050.
· The estimated cost over the next three decades is about Rs 91,684 crores (about US$ 20 billion).
It’s a bold renewable energy target for which the Indian Government plans to seek international funding as well as external technology inputs from the developed world (Developed Polluters).
At Copenhagen this December, we can expect that India will use this plan as a tool to negotiate for concessions – by showing the country’s readiness to make a commitment on controlling carbon emissions even as economic growth is sustained, provided the West provide all assistance.
Experts see the move as an opportunity for rich nations to fulfill a kind of moral obligation and liability of tort. (In the US, the 'superfund' principle is applicable in cases where past environmental damage needs redress).
The third world, led by the Developing Polluters China and India, can try to persuade the West to apply the same rationale to the harmful carbon emissions for which those economies have been the major contributors, and on which indeed their economic advances are rooted.
A Climate Superfund, if and when it becomes a reality, could auger well for international cooperation and shared commitments to meet climate change challenges and participatory mitigation efforts. What is needed is conscientious diplomacy, and forward thinking, beyond borders.
Parallel to any climate mitigation plan, however ambitious it may be, India does need to commit itself to uplifting its grossly deprived millions to reach better living standards on a path that demonstrably deviates from following past mistakes. And trust that the international community has the grace to lend the much needed helping hand.
Editor's note: Interested in learning more about India's solar powered initiatives?
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