There’s more than one way to spread the word about something. Sushil Reddy chose to spread the word of sustainable renewable energy by constructing a solar-powered cycle and riding it across nine states in 79 days, delivering 25 seminars, and covering a whopping 7,424 kilometres.
This was back in 2016, and he and his support crew wound up breaking a Guinness and Limca World Record for the longest journey on a solar-powered electric bicycle.
This journey, branded as ‘The SunPedal Ride’, was repeated by Sushil in France and the US as well.
And he will be getting back on his solar-powered cycle for a 15-day ride across Bengaluru from November 26 to December 10. He will be visiting schools, universities, and corporates to spread awareness about renewable energy in India.
Thanks to his solar bicycle, he is grabbing attention and directly demonstrating the efficacy of the sun’s energy to provide basic needs like electricity and transport. “The bicycle really is the mascot of the entire project,” says Sushil, speaking to The Better India.
So what’s the word on solar power?
Sushil graduated from IIT-Bombay in 2013 as an energy engineer and worked for two years in a solar start-up within IIT-Bombay itself. In his time there, he got many insights into the perception of solar power within India.
“I found there was a lot of misconception about the financial viability of solar power. When the fact is that solar power has a lot of financial benefits in the long term,” says Sushil.
For example, not many people are aware of Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), which involves three parties: a client, an investor, and a solar power company. The investor provides the capital to set up a solar power plant for a client. The plant is installed and maintained by the solar power company, and the client pays for the electricity generated by the solar power plant directly to the investor.
The investor can see a rate of return as high as 15%, and a large solar plant can save a client an average of 25% over conventional electricity. These PPAs are long term, and according to Sushil, they provide a sound return on investment.
Then there are the various applications of solar energy that many are unaware of. Let’s take solar microgrids, which are gaining traction, with several of them already installed in villages across India.
A microgrid consists of a generator that runs on renewable energy and that services a small number of households. They are completely independent of the main grid and hence can potentially provide the power needs of small towns and villages.
“Solar panels require a lot of space. Since villages and small towns have an ample amount of space, they can be a very good testing ground for microgrids,” explains Sushil. “In the future, we may see technologies like blockchain being used for energy transfer between two or more parties.”
In this way, a house that generates excess electricity can share it with other houses on the same grid. Here you have the beginnings of a completely independent and sustainable system.
Solar power is not yet perfect. So how do we address the issues?
The answer lies in infusing innovation and ingenuity into the field, and Sushil has plans for that. He is currently completing his Masters in Sustainability and Social Innovation from Paris, and after that, he wants to work in skill development in the area of solar energy and mobility.
“The SunPedal Ride was good for awareness, but now I want to focus on developing skills in this area. The long-term plan is to leverage my network to connect the academia and the industry so that the best minds can come forward to tackle this issue.”
In a single hour, the amount of solar energy hitting the Earth is more than the entire population of the planet uses in a year. How much is that in numbers? Every hour, 430 quintillion Joules of energy reach the Earth, which is 430 followed by 18 zeroes.
In comparison, we currently use 410 quintillion Joules per year. By harnessing just a fraction of that energy, there is great potential to solve many of our electricity woes.
And though it is widely known, it must be reiterated here: there is also the massive benefit of solar energy being absolutely clean, and hence sustainable.
We must take seriously the application of such energy-harnessing methods that do not produce harmful by-products or are intrusive into the Earth. People like Sushil Reddy are championing the cause of sustainability, and we must listen and act.
When asked how we can help usher in the change to renewable energy, Sushil is candid.
“Different people can act at different levels. For a school student, it might be as simple as remembering to turn off the lights when leaving a room. I know that’s a cliché, but it starts with the little habits. If someone is managing a large company, he or she could do something on a much larger scale.
But no matter who you are, you can discuss this with as many other people as possible and keep yourself updated on what’s happening. India wants to install 100GW of solar power plants by 2022, and we are currently at 25 GW. In 3 years we have to install 3 times that much. This will require a lot of stakeholders to come together, so keep talking and engaging people.”
Sushil’s solar bicycle will be on display at the Bengaluru International Exhibition Centre from 11-13 December during the Intersolar India exhibition.