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India has long battled with power shortages. Many rural areas have never received electricity, and urban slums are similarly left out of the loop. However, with economic growth slated to reach 7 per cent, and population growing at well over 15 per cent annually, the power problem is going to become a whole lot worse.
Coal-burning plants, which have until recently provided India with close to 55 per cent of its electricity, have sagged under mismanagement and coal scarcity. Despite an 11 per cent increase in production capacity in the nation’s coal plants, miners have only eked out a 1 per cent increase in coal production.
Partnered with the United States government, India has been building a number of nuclear power plants to meet the needs of its growing population, but the combined megawattage of the three plants under construction is only 5000 MW.
The power deficit has been damaging to the young power’s ability to reach potential growth rates, and it has businessmen and scientists looking for alternative solutions in cleantech. Disregarding the lumbering construction of fossil fuel plants, India invested over US$10 billion in clean tech in 2011, surpassed only by countries like China, America, Germany and Italy. The promise of abundant energy from sources that lack the dirt and grime of fossil fuels is intriguing, and some have begun to take notice.
In the western Gujarat state of India, half a billion dollars worth of solar panels have been crammed into a patch of desert. Over a million glistening panels stretch towards the Pakistani border; it took only sixteen months for them to be assembled. The Charanka Solar Park produces 212MW, and the central government has set a target of 20 000MW from solar generation by 2022. Although this is only 5% of India’s generation capacity, it is still a huge leap to make.
Solar offers electricity to at least 50 000 rural villages that will never be connected to the power grid because of rough terrain and distance. However, critics worry that India does not have the infrastructure to support maintenance and commitment to a solar panel push. Others fear that in the permit auction to produce power, solar will not be profitable.
On the opposite side of the country, in Bihar, a company is realizing the energy producing potential of the same rural villages using bio-power. By burning rice husks, stems, corn cobs and grasses, one of BioEnergy Consult’s biomass gasifiers can produce 32KW of power a day. Both cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuel plants, a biofuel plant can bring light to the darkness of a rural village, communities which are all too willing to pay for electricity, say the founders of BioEnergy.
In the climb from poverty to prosperity, an adequate supply of electricity is going to be a make or break rung in the Indian ladder. By making the investment to implement cleantech at this developing stage in their major industry, India has a chance to set an example and prevent a systematic reliance on fossil fuel technology that western history has shown is hard to break once comfortable.