In September 2017, I was travelling in China on a holiday. Amongst the many surprises regarding the way China had developed, during a bullet train travel from the city of Wuhan to Shanghai, I noticed hundreds of apartment buildings with solar energy panels on rooftop.
When I started looking at this a bit more, I understood the following:
• China wants to boost their solar capacity from 28 Gigawatts in 2014 to 100 Gigawatts in 2020. India eventually wants to hit the 175 GW target, by the year 2022 target. However, in China, since all land belongs to the state, thus making it difficult to acquire rooftop rights, and due to high installation costs, the interest in solar energy from households and businesses had been muted.
• Thanks to subsidies and falling manufacturing costs, since 2015, China started installing solar power on rooftops, sufficient enough to service their own needs.
• Currently, rooftop projects account for 9 percent of China’s solar energy market, mainly in the eastern provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong, where power demand is greater than the west.
How India can utilize rooftop solar energy
This made me think that in a country like India, the southern states do not have a specifically long winter period. Especially Tamil Nadu, where I hail from, has no winter at all. Aren’t these optimal conditions for leveraging solar power panels on rooftops?
One of the most important changes you notice in Chennai during every visit is how much more of a concrete jungle it has become. Very noticeably, there are new apartment buildings everywhere. Gone are the days when the LIC office in Anna Salai was the tallest building with 15 floors. There are tall buildings everywhere.
And there is plenty of sunlight, with almost 10 months of summer—plenty even during the remaining 2 months. However, I did not see solar energy panels on rooftop at all. Leave alone green energy boosting, most of the states are struggling to meet their growing power demands; there are always several instances of scheduled and unscheduled power cuts. Why has there not been any visual or concrete progress with regard to installing solar energy panels on rooftops?
I am sure that with more than 7 million people living, the city consumes 20% of the electricity in the state and domestic consumers form the largest chunk of the population. If the property developers who are minting money in Chennai had emphasized on solar panels, this could have been part of the cost and that cost could have been easily absorbed by 300 to 400 families, the government and property developers. Moreover, prices for solar power generation have actually nose-dived, thanks to the solar energy boom happening in China. No wonder, most of the world’s largest manufacturers of solar power panels and other equipment are from China. In fact, it is reported that Tesla’s solar power rooftops come cheaper than the traditional rooftops. Surely, India should not lag behind in this.
The other interesting factor is that the consumption of electricity has been growing from 25 to 30 percent in three years from 2014 to 2017. According to reports in 2015, quite a few Chennaiites were keen to become self-sufficient for energy. There was even an enthusiastic bunch of residents who generated solar power to power not only their homes but also supply surplus power to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board. A subsidy of Rs.20,000 was also announced by the state government for this scheme and this was in addition to the subsidy of Rs.30,000 offered by the Central government. But the state-owned power utility has come out with a proposal to add a tax on the power generated, discouraging the growing interest in rooftop solar panels.
Power crisis in India can be resolved through solar-based energy
Millions in India have no access to power, with 40% households (400 million) without power. State electricity boards have been unable to meet the demands of the growing population. Harnessing green sources of energy is the only way forward. Moreover, Transmission losses in India, which stand at a staggering 40–48% compared to world standard of 8%, will be reduced. Transmission losses are huge due to long distance through which power is transmitted. Those losses can be controlled and by consequence, power shortage can be managed. According to a report by the World Resources Institute, total power transmission losses in India are 27%—the highest in the world. Just imagine the millions of tons of coal as well as other non-renewable resources which were used to generate that electricity.
Moreover, fossil fuels such as coal as well as natural gas are depleting fast. Developing countries need to find alternative sources of energy to meet their requirements. This is especially true for countries which are short on natural resources. They should leverage renewable sources of energy for for a sustainable and green future.
In my opinion, one of the most important solutions for green energy will be solar panels on the rooftop of all apartments in the southern states of India that have plenty of sunlight throughout the year, especially Tamil Nadu.
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