NEW DELHI — In December 2015, India agreed to the Paris Agreement, pledging to reduce emissions and invest in renewable energy. India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi also set an ambitious goal to reach 100,000 megawatts of national solar energy by 2022.
This move received responses of surprise and skepticism. Given its heavy reliance on coal for energy, such a transformation from fossil fuels to solar power in India seemed outrageous to some. Other backlash argued that the resources for such an expensive program would be better used in aid programs for the fifth of India’s population living below the poverty line.
But Modi saw this deal as an opportunity not only to pioneer renewable energy but also to improve his country’s economy and standard of living. The president himself grew up poor and without access to electricity. He knows that people simply cannot lift themselves out of poverty without access to reliable energy.
India’s Energy Minister, Piyush Goyal, says Modi is “completely committed to making this [not]happen” for anyone else. Still, in a country where 300 million people have no access to electricity and have an average income of $1,600 a year, many called Modi’s goals impossible.
A year and a half later, India’s decision has proven profitable. The push for solar power created new markets for U.S. solar companies, such as SunEdison. This company offered a low price of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar panels and equipment to Indian buyers, clearing the way for India to create its own solar energy markets.
Several Indian solar power companies have emerged as well, such as Sun Bazaar and Naturetech Infra. India’s government is supporting the transformation, too. The Ministry of Renewable Energy offers a 30 to 40 percent subsidy to those installing home solar systems. In just 18 months, solar power companies have become so competitive that the current market price is 4 cents a kilowatt-hour, much lower than the price of coal.
Change the Source to Change Lives
One of the greatest challenges in overcoming poverty is the current source of electricity in India. India’s electricity runs on a massive power grid that links the largest cities but does not reach rural areas. However, solar panels can run independently of the grids, making it easier for rural areas to receive electricity.
With the lowering price of solar power in India, solar panels are replacing the kerosene lamps usually seen in the most impoverished regions. Some solar power companies, like Naturetech Infra, provide solar panels specifically to rural homes and small enterprises. They cater to India’s poorest states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
With solar panels cheaper than kerosene, Modi and other government officials hope that the poor will be able to save money to spend on better food, clothing and schooling. There’s also the added benefit of electricity providing better reading light, better heating and better cooking options. While these effects will certainly be long-term, there’s no doubt that the growing amount of solar power in India will soon lead to a better standard of living and a cleaner environment for all citizens.
Modi is so confident that in May 2017 he announced plans to increase efforts for solar power in India. He hopes to achieve the goal of 100,000 megawatts by 2019, three years ahead of schedule. By that time, he believes every household will have electricity. With national access to electricity, a decline in poverty is likely to follow.
– Sydney Cooney