Going the Solar Way

It consumes none of our precious energy resources, makes no contribution to air, water, or noise pollution

The Government of India has decided to raise the capacity of the proposed solar park in Ladakh to 10 GW from 7.5 GW announced earlier. Before that a solar power plant project comprising of three solar generating units of 250 MW each located on a 500-hectare plot of land inside a solar park with a total area of 1500 hectare, was inaugurated in Madhya Pradesh.

Almost side by side, the world’s largest renewable solar and wind energy park and another desalination plant were launched in Gujarat’s Kutch. Prior to that, the PM had also attended the 8th Convocation of Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

At the ceremony, the PM said that the country is moving forward with the goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 30-35 percent over the coming years. He also laid the foundation stone for a 45 MW production plant of monocrystalline solar PV panels at the ceremony.

In a first of its kind symbolic effort by India at the UN, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a 50KW 'Gandhi Solar Park' during his visit to the UNO, a gesture that highlighted India's willingness to go beyond the talk on climate change. At a contribution of about one million dollars, India has gifted solar panels that have been installed on the roof of the UN Headquarters here, one panel each for every 193 UN Member State.

"Never has there been a symbolic Indian effort at the UN, of a tangible nature, which impacts on every country of the type that the Gandhi Solar Park is going to be.

The UN always talks about renewable energy, it always talks about climate action, climate change. By this small effort that we've made, we symbolise our willingness to go beyond the talk," said Akbaruddin, India’s representative at the United Nations, adding that the energy generated in the park is equivalent to energy that would have been created through use of 30,000 kilograms of coal. It also has a carbon sequestration of 1000 seedlings which will grow into trees over 10 years.

The Vedic reference to the Sun as being the store house of inexhaustible power and radiance has been scientifically established inasmuch as the total amount of solar energy incident on Earth is vastly in excess of the world’s current and anticipated energy requirements. If suitably harnessed, this highly diffused source has the potential to satisfy all future energy needs. In the 21st century solar energy is expected to become increasingly attractive as a renewable energy source because of its inexhaustible supply and its nonpolluting character, in stark contrast to the finite fossil fuels coal, petroleum, and natural gas.

This vast energy comes from within the Sun itself. Like other stars, the sun is a big gas ball made up mostly of hydrogen and helium. It generates energy in its core in a process called nuclear fusion, during which the sun's extremely high pressure and hot temperature cause hydrogen atoms to come apart and their nuclei (the central cores of the atoms) to fuse or combine. Four hydrogen nuclei fuse to become one helium atom. But the helium atom weighs less than the four nuclei that combined to form it. Some matter is lost during nuclear fusion, which is emitted into space as radiant energy. It takes millions of years for the energy in the Sun's core to make its way to the solar surface, and then just a little over eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles to earth at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light. Only a small portion of the energy thus radiated strikes the earth, one part in two billion. Yet this amount of energy is enormous about 15 percent of which is reflected back into space, 30 percent is used to evaporate water, which, lifted into the atmosphere, produces rain. Solar energy also is absorbed by plants, the land, and the oceans. The rest could be used to supply our energy needs.

Mankind has been harnessing solar energy since ages. As early as the 7th century B.C., people used simple magnifying glasses to converge the light of the Sun into beams so hot that they would cause wood to catch fire. Over 100 years ago in France, a scientist used heat from a solar collector to make steam to drive a steam engine. In the beginning of this century, scientists and engineers began researching ways to use solar energy in earnest. One important development was a remarkably efficient solar boiler invented by Charles Greeley Abbott, an American astrophysicist, in 1936. The solar water heater gained popularity at this time and the industry was in full swing just before World War II. This growth lasted until the mid-1950s when low-cost natural gas became the primary fuel for heating American homes. The public and world governments remained largely indifferent to the possibilities of solar energy until the oil shortages of the 1970s, when the push for renewable energy sources was driven by oil shortages and price increases. Today, the push for renewable energy sources is driven by a renewed concern for the environment.

Solar energy is the prototype of an environmentally friendly energy source. It consumes none of our precious energy resources, makes no contribution to air, water, or noise pollution, does not pose a health hazard, and contributes no harmful waste products to the environment. There are other advantages too. Solar energy cannot be embargoed or controlled by any one nation. And it will not run out until the sun goes out.

The past few years have seen a steady rise in India’s global stature, manifested in its enhanced economic and diplomatic clout. As the world is looking to mitigate the rapidly growing threat of climate change, India figures prominently as a vital cog in the wheel. It is now poised to take up the mantle of climate leadership, contribute actively in setting the agenda for future action and act as a role model for sustainable growth. Perhaps the first indicator of India’s larger role in this sphere was the setting up of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) – a step initiated by Indian Prime Minister - in collaboration with French President Emmanuel Macron. The ISA has since emerged as a credible platform for ensuring universal energy access and energy equity, shifting the geopolitical balance towards tropical countries with rich solar energy potential. Today, India is fast emerging as a global clean energy powerhouse, where the renewable sector has taken rapid strides, though the seeds of this “green energy revolution” were sown much earlier.

Long before COP 21, India was one of the first countries to set up a Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources in 1992, renamed the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in 2006, a testament to India’s mission to propagate clean energy sources since the early days of sustainable development. However, it was in 2014, when the National Democratic Alliance, led by Prime Minister Modi, came into power, that renewables in India got a real shot in the arm. The government envisioned renewable energy as a cleaner, sustainable alternative to polluting fossil fuels, taking numerous steps to strengthen this sector in a bid to satisfy the country’s energy demand. Several policy reforms, incentives and focused attention from the government created a conducive environment for private players to enter this domain. It was around this time that the concept of Independent Power Providers crystallized, with several dynamic entrepreneurs venturing into this sector. This increased the country's renewables capacity and triggered a transition towards clean energy.

As a developing country, a key challenge for India was to meet the growing demand for energy, driven by rapid economic growth and sheer size of its population. Energy self-sufficiency and universal energy access were top national priorities inasmuch as it was critical that India look beyond dependence on imports for its energy requirements. At the same time, as the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, pressure was mounting on India to cut back on the emission of harmful pollutants. The government was quick to realize that growth and sustainability had to be addressed concurrently and wisely chose to promote renewables over carbon-spewing fossil fuels – with an eye on leveraging the abundant sunlight and wind that India is naturally blessed with.

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.

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