In a country of 1.2 billion people, where an estimate of 404 million have no access to electricity, and a major population sufferers chronic power cuts, how do we ensure access to uninterrupted and sustainable electricity? Adding to this situation, we have a shortage of coal, insufficient political will power to either utilize existing coal mines, or to increase the efficiency of aging thermal power plants. Financially crippled utilities have become a liability to our system, especially when in-house coal produced is never enough and India constantly depends on imported coal to increase capacity.
Generating enough power is not the only aspect to consider to solve our electricity crisis. We also have to look into how that electricity is delivered to the end-consumer. India has invested very little budget towards revamping its high-tension transmission cables. The result is a high percentage of loss during transmission and electricity thefts.
Sure, our Ministry of Power has a huge task on their plates. How do we ensure access to electricity for all? How do we bridge the gap between demand and supply? How do we fix India's seemingly never ending electricity problem?
Our national capital, Delhi purchases 75% of its total power requirements from thermal power plants in neighbouring states. This summer, just like previous summers, Chief Minister Sheila Dixit promised uninterrupted power supply to the citizens. The year 2012 saw a massive blackout leaving a large portion of Northern India in pitch darkness for over two days.
May 2013 witnessed extensive power cuts haunting Delhiites, yet again. Adding to this crisis was soaring temperatures and heat waves. Our energy system fails us on two major aspects. It does not provide enough power to everyone and the poor suffer the most. It's dependence on coal provides no help to fight increasing carbon emissions. Lakhs of people are suffering right now, and our government should fix this. Right?
Wrong. Our energy distribution system is so complex and flawed right now, that 'fixing' an already damaged system is only a short term solution. Adding more coal or nuclear power plants or sanctioning new coal blocks will always remain a short term – 'fix the gap' solution. What India needs right now is a new approach to really 'solve' this crisis.
Move away from traditional methods of generating electricity. Stop depending upon one single source of power like thermal power plants. Any state having excess power should share it with neighbouring states but Indian states needs to move away from this dependence as well. Purchasing power indirectly also leads to higher tariffs, which is ultimately passed on to the consumer.
Make your own communities or colonies mini-power generating locations. The answer is right above our head, literally, on our roof. Let's produce our own electricity on our own roof-tops through solar power!
But, who would bear the cost? Where can we buy solar panels? What if we have excess power? These questions should be ideally answered in the next step.
Ask our government to provide us a user and investor friendly policy on Solar roof-top energy generation. With every other household generating its own electricity, the entire system automatically becomes more efficient and less corrupt.
Many residential colonies in Delhi have roof spaces which are used partially or not used at all. Many corporates have stand-alone buildings with big wide roof spaces which can be a great location to harness sun's heat to generate electricity. Through decentralized units of power generation like roof – top solar, our houses can fully or partially be powered by solar energy. They can still remain connected to the state grid, but in cases of power shortages or load-shedding, we can still be assured of power supply thanks to batteries which store the solar energy generated. People who have generated excess solar energy can sell those units back to the state grid, adding on to the capacity of that region!
How about the idea of DISCOMs lending our roof space to generate power locally? How about private players lending our roof space to generate electricity through solar? We can have budding entrepreneurs pooling in a capital to provide electricity to maybe just a few localities. There is enough scope for local employment through decentralizing energy generation, and for newer business models to emerge in our energy market. Higher the houses adopting solar rooftop, the lower our carbon emissions! Seems like a dream world, too good to be true. This can be true, only if we have our government's support.
Delhi receives sunlight in abundance. The heat doesn't always have to be something to worry about. We can always turn the tides or heat waves in this case to generate electricity to power our houses!
Join Greenpeace India in this movement to demand a conducive policy from the Delhi government that helps power generation through solar power. Delhi can be a truly world-class sustainable city and pave way for this policy to be replicated in other cities too.
Delhi has the capacity to set an example, all that remains is political will power to harness a free source of power – Sun. To demand renewable energy as a solution to our power crisis, sign our online petition.
Sonam Mittal is a part of the mobilisation team at Greenpeace India.