As India’s growth engine chugs on, rural India still is the heart of the country, accounting for around 69 percent of the total population. While the overall economy is growing at the rate of seven percent, rural India still lags behind.
The absence of amenities like electricity, potable water and sanitation are a few of the major factors impeding rural productivity and the subsequent economic growth.
Nearly 300 million people living in rural India are still using primitive sources of energy like kerosene and wood-fired stoves, which expose them to life-threatening diseases and exacerbate environmental problems.
Picture for representation only. Source: Pixabay
Solar power, a renewable and clean source of energy, could fuel rural India’s growth. With a drastic drop in the capital costs and efficiency improvements, solar energy is now a viable alternative for the power-starved individual households and small businesses of rural India.
Where irregular power supply hampers productivity, solar energy could help bridge the infrastructure gaps and improve the social, economic and health indicators. It has potential in the rural and remote sectors since the economics involved in installing the off-grid system caters to the energy needs of the community. It is significantly less expensive than setting up a conventional power distribution system.
As India looks to cut its dependence on fossil fuels for power generation, it is striving to make solar the focal point of its switch to renewable energy. India doubled its installed solar capacity from 10 gigawatts to 20 gigawatts in 2017.
The government declared 2019 as the year for every Indian household to get electricity. Under the Saubhagya scheme, the government has given more emphasis on encouraging distributed solar power. Through the easy deployment of decentralised solar power, the end-user is brought closer to the source of the generation which impacts the rural population directly.
For example, the solar micro-grids system from G.R.I.D. Pvt. Ltd., is helping households and small businesses gain easy access to clean drinking water and cheap electricity.
With this, G.R.I.D. is not only addressing the health and energy needs of people but is also generating employment. It further helps create awareness about green energy through various campaigns resulting in changing the overall ecosystem of the communities.
Earlier, these systems were funded by government-backed programmes, but now even the private players are dominating the market which underlines the economic viability of this sector.
Creating Women Entrepreneurs
Women play a pivotal role in the rural communities and have always emerged as the pillars of the rural economy due to their total involvement with agriculture, cattle care, and other domestic activities. However, they lack the powers of decision-making, economy and choice when it comes to selecting the means of lighting and cooking.
Women and children are also most susceptible to the harmful effects of unclean fuels used for lighting, cooking etc.
Solar energy interventions in rural areas help in bringing about gender parity by creating women entrepreneurs to lead a solar power revolution in rural India. The overall outcome of distributed renewable energy like solar lighting, home solar systems or mini-grids has a direct impact on women.
By tapping the potential of Self-Help Groups operated by Village Level Entrepreneurs in the rural areas, the energy sector is helping women become pioneers of clean energy. Women entrepreneurs support rural communities to take constructive steps to improve the quality of the environment, adopt clean energy products and services, operate and recharge community water sources and promote agricultural best practices to improve their long-term resilience to climate change.
The need for clean energy products and services is widespread, and women can be engaged as entrepreneurs, making it a sustainable solution in the country.
Solar powering education
Inadequate infrastructure in rural areas and constant power outages in grid-connected areas prevents students from learning in optimal conditions. Further, students lack access to modern information technology which is crucial for educational and economic empowerment.
Solar energy has the potential to power the education system in rural areas by providing adequate electricity as well as access to education. It helps in improving the living standards of rural households through solar energy-based interventions and learning facilities in the underserved community.
Underqualified teachers also get proper training to become skilled trainers in solar computer labs. With easy access to electricity through solar energy, new avenues of self-learning by digital content have opened up for the students.
Even the uses of solar energy in urban schools have enormous incentive, not just to save money by reducing electricity bills, but also to create better learning opportunities in school.
It is vital that students understand the environmental challenges we face this century. In this regard, schools can serve as agents of sustainability and cornerstones of green initiatives that benefit their community. With solar systems, students can gain first-hand experience on learning how the sun’s energy is converted to electricity and solar installations can be integrated into a school’s technology programmes to improve the overall education system.
The bottom line
Picture for representation only. Source: Flickr
Increase in access to energy is crucial for development in rural parts of India. However, to have a holistic approach towards development of the community, it is essential that the energy access should not be limited to electrification and should be focused towards enabling the community through its use.
In these areas, even access to a small amount of electricity could be a game changer and can provide the first step out of poverty by providing new skills, creating more entrepreneurs and source of income. This also leads to improvements in health, access to clean drinking water, education, communications and digitisation.
Hence, it can be said that solar interventions can create sustainable energy pockets which enhance the overall ecosystem of the community.
(Written by Manik M Jolly and Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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