Courtesy of:Sierra Club India Environment As the global economy attempts to make the transition beyond coal and oil, the broader societal implications of energy production and consumption are only fleetingly recognized. Perhaps one of the most important is the “radical” notion of putting energy in the hands of the people.
In many rapidly industrializing countries large scale coal fired power plants are justified by the developmental necessity of lifting millions out of poverty. This justification however, falls flat when 430 million people live in rural areas that lack access to the grid as they do in India. In this case centralized power projects overwhelmingly benefit the 30% of the country living in urban areas, leaving the rural masses waiting for the fruits of the development that bears their name.
As is often the case, the poor end up paying much higher relative prices for the poor quality of energy they receive. For example, while off-grid lighting users spend over $40 billion per year on lighting - about 20% of all global lighting expenditures - they receive only 0.1% of the total lighting services consumed by the world. The Lumina project, estimates that the greenhouse-gas emissions from this lighting is equal to 190 million tonnes of CO2 per year – taken as a country it would be the 8th largest in the world.
Despite the environmental motivations for promoting large scale renewable energy options in India, the same limitations pertaining to centralized fossil fuel energy hold true. Despite the fact that concentrated solar power could provide 3-4 times the level of current coal fired power in India at a fraction of the cost development is not achieved unless that energy actually reaches the people. With only 10% of the countries planned 20GW of solar power allocated for off grid users, and the costly economics of extending the grid to many off-grid communities the poor will likely be left waiting.
To ensure that a clean energy transition reaches the base of the pyramid (BOP) the Indian hotbed of social entrepreneurism is rising to the challenge. A prime example of this movement is Greenlight Planet who recently won the Solar for all Prize sponsored by Deutsche Bank. The prize was created by Ashoka vice president David Green with a vision to achieve 2.5 million solar system installations annually in the initial years and to reach 60 million households by 2020.
Greenlight Planet took home the prize for its efforts to distribute durable, well designed, high quality LED solar lanterns to the BOP. With a multi level marketing strategy, an affordable price point of around $18, and an emphasis on quality products and service these lanterns are helping to provide millions of rural Indians with safe, clean sources of lighting that replace kerosene lamps.
We currently stand at a crossroads, climate change is drastically altering planetary cycles, fossil fuel supplies are contracting while demand is skyrocketing, and undreamt of wealth is becoming ever more concentrated in the hands of a few. There are few opportunities where strategic choices like promoting the use of decentralized, distributed energy applications can have such large societal ramifications. It’s time to support pioneers like David Green, Greenlight Planet and all of those who are truly promoting solar for all.
This post appears courtesy of the Sierra Club India.
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Image sourced from The IIIrd World website.