Amid the discussions of soft cost reduction schemes, racking solutions, energy storage, net metering, US-China trade disputes, and the like during Intersolar North America, one of the most important of all the solar value propositions was often lost in the noise. Better than any other power source, solar can help ameliorate energy poverty for those 1.3 billion people in India, Africa and elsewhere who lack proper access to the grid and often rely on crappy, dangerous kerosene lanterns and the like for light.
Since I too was roiling in the Intersolar week tumult, I missed a great post at Climate Progress about “Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Lights on in India,” a joint video series between the Sierra Club and the Center for American Progress (CAP) documenting how the increasing distribution of PV-powered LED lamps and chargers is making a real difference in rural areas of the Indian state of Utter Pradesh. Thanks to a Sierra Club missive in my inbox late last week, I was alerted to collection of videos and tracked down the Climate Progress piece.
“As I watch employees of one of the country’s many fast-growing clean energy startups install solar panels on a local villager’s roof— their sixth installation of the day—I realize I am witnessing something transformational,” writes Andrew Satter, CAP’s director of video, in the Climate Progress article. “It is a glimpse into the future of how the world’s rural poor could access electricity: off-grid, distributed, renewable, and most importantly, affordable.”
He talks about Simpa Energy and OMC Power, both of which have employed innovative microfinance techniques such as “pay as you go” to make small solar affordable for the rural poor. “Traveling around from village to village with these companies, I saw countless uses for the clean LED lights,” Satter relates. “Rural dairy farmers who use the lanterns to milk their cows before sunrise (one farmer says cows aren’t a fan of kerosene smoke and swears they now give better milk); a cohort of women sari weavers who can work longer hours to make extra money for themselves and their family; families with children who have a safe and clean way to study at night; and shopkeepers and other small business owners whose lights shine brighter than competitors. All were able to get reliable power without emitting one ounce of CO2 during usage.”
One interesting facet of the CAP-Sierra effort was the use of Google Glass on the Indian junket. The disruptive gadget was employed as a secondary video camera as well as a Hindi-English translator, navigation aid, and other applications. I’ve embedded the main video below; Climate Progress, CAP, and Sierra Club all have additional info as well as links to several additional behind-the-scenes video clips.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SIERRA CLUB