Going Solar: a hot idea for cool Kashmir

The sun never tires of its coming and going



This month, I researched photovoltaic (PV), or, electricity from the sun’s rays: a subject as replete with jargon as I am technologically-challenged.  But the advancement in solar technology is breathtaking, the engineering relatively easy to understand and the urgency of adopting it in India so compelling that I am a willing, captivated student.
It helped to hang out with mostly young and highly-motivated PV enthusiasts:  IIT and B-School graduates. There was no railing against relatively controversial nuclear energy or hydro-electric power from big dams, nor bitchiness about other renewable energies like wind and bio-mass.  They were endowed, not with a romanticized and vague philosophy about ‘saving the world’ at any cost, but with a realistic, healthy and rounded sense of sustainable development.
Indeed and though India enjoys 300 days of annual sunshine and therewith one of the world’s highest ‘irradiation’ rates,  various factors indicate that all forms of energy will have to complement each other, at least for some time to come:
-Irradiation is not even across India. Unlike in industrialized nations, India’s electrical grids still don’t reach 300 million of its population – including a third of rural India. (They are unlikely to in the near future, so solar electricity cannot be distributed through the grid to remote populations either);-For grids to distribute solar electricity even to powered areas to bring costs down, India’s  existing grids would have to be drastically re-designed;- Solar technology has yet to come up with adequate storage for uninterrupted use in the night, etc. (though it is expected within five years).
 Environmental degradation around the globe has been disastrous. Oil and gas reserves will run out, or be severely depleted in about 80 years. CO2 emissions from coal are choking India. Big dams have caused mass displacement, many thousands are still waiting for compensation. Though atomic energy is being revisited as a ‘clean’ form, devastating accidents around the world – like in industrialized Japan – and fierce public protests have dampened enthusiasm.
 Given all this, there is no time to procrastinate. The time to develop renewable energies like wind, solar and bio-mass was - yesterday.
 Now, we Indians are better known for hopping on to a train when it is full and has begun to roll out of the station.   After all, there has been plenty to preoccupy our polity for the past 65 years - ‘big ticket’ and therewith ‘lucrative’ projects, in-fighting, red-tape, corruption, squabbles over caste and religion, etc. for them to address ‘small matters’ like pollution, the energy crisis and the urgent needs of small farmers in remote areas.
 But here’s the surprise. In the field of solar energy, New Delhi is, for once, firmly on the bandwagon.
 There is a separate ministry for new and renewable energy (MNRE) headed by your own Dr Farooq Abdullah, who by all indications, seems enthusiastic about his portfolio. It has a department devoted to solar energy called the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), chaired by an extremely knowledgeable bureaucrat who reportedly works – unlike PV - through most nights too.
 Big states are already on the roll. Gujarat’s operational Charaka Solar Park is the world’s second largest, Bihar is finalizing new initiatives. Chattisgarh, AP and TN are the next big things and have announced massive programs, as have several other regions.
 So where is J&K?
 According to a GK report earlier this year and in the fifth of several earlier initiatives, Rs 30 crore were sanctioned for solar power plants at training centers for J&K Police. Funds have also been announced for photo-voltaic plants at health centers, for solar home lights and telecom towers in remote villages and at the Islamic University of Srinagar.
 Mention inaccessible parts of rural Kashmir and engineers in Delhi talk excitedly of ‘micro-grids’, small solar farms which could feed a hamlet against nominal monthly charges per household.  They point to the blistering speed with which the MNRE and all state governments including J&K are rolling out clean-energy incentives and funds. Through my column, they were eager for me to convey the following to their counterparts in Kashmir:
 -This is the time for J&K’s Gen-Next to actively spread public awareness and promote renewable energy (in the case of J&K, PV coupled with wind) as the most viable and urgent alternative across the state.  
 -This is the time for Kashmir’s emerging MBAs to wake up to a field where simple business models can be philanthropic, environment-friendly and in a slightly longer run than gold or real estate, profit-making too.
 This is the time for graduating engineers to rest assured that PV technology is getting cheaper by the day and that demand will almost certainly boost manufacture and encourage more financing institutions to place their money in R&D.
 Dudes, dudettes, geeks, bright-sparks of J&K: think about it.  I hope this quote from your very own Lal Ded’s Lalla Vaakh inspires you:
 We are in the past
We are in the future
Siva never tires of birth and death
The sun never tires of its coming and going.

(The author is a senior freelance foreign correspondent)

Lastupdate on : Fri, 30 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 30 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 1 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST

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