Less than a kilometer from Asia's largest Solar Thermal plant, west of Bikaner, Rajasthan, lives the farmer Sabhu Khan. His hamlet is still unreached by the grid. Instead of the grid connection, he decided to go for an off-grid solar system – He bought it himself, at full market price – for Rs. 9500 and a 12 volt car-battery – locally made and with a 1 year guarantee.
The panel and battery he bought is enough for two lights and is more than enough for Sabhu Khan's needs. His satisfaction with the panel is obvious as he had an earlier system stolen from him during the night but still decided to buy a new one. To avoid further theft he now takes the panel inside from the roof at night.
Sabhu Khan cares little for the huge solar thermal plant that can be seen clearly from his roof. The large plant had to buy out local farmers for the land, and its high-voltage power lines bring the power off to Bikaner city while his own very local roof-top power plant takes up no space and provides power when needed – in the evening, for his children's homework. He had no idea about any government subsidy and didn't even care. The system was working and worth the cost, even if it meant an extra trip to the roof each day. The alternative if it can be called so was the expensive and smokey kerosene lanterns.
In Phalodi some 160 kilometers away shopkeeper Nandkishor Sharma's solar lighting systems are selling like ice-cream on a very sunny day. And since it is almost always a very sunny day in Phalodi, the solar PV business is good. Sharma's systems consist of a 15W, 5W, or 3 W panel and a 12 volt or smaller battery. He also sells small and energy-efficient LED lights to go with them. As cost for solar modules globally are coming down these systems are getting further cheaper – Sharma's 15 W panel goes for Rs. 1650 and a car battery with a 1 year warranty comes in at Rs. 3000.
According to P.K. Pattanaik of Arayvart Grameen Bank kerosene costs for lanterns can come to Rs. 280 a month. Over a 5 year period (the life-time of the battery, although the panel itself can last much longer) this comes to a total of Rs. 16800 – much higher than either Sharma's or Sabhu Khan's solar systems. While lowering the consumption of kerosene by 480 liters per household the solar PV systems also gives cleaner and brighter light
Sharma states that his panels are a big hit among un-electrified farmers. These are farmers who have grown tired of waiting for the grid or for government subsidies.
Foreseeing the danger, India was quick to place on the table the loose ends from the Cancun talks and requested re-opening of the talks on equity, trade and Intellectual Property rights. It has already been known to use poverty and other development issues in its domestic scene for posing inability to participate in any form of legal cuts. But, If India does make the cut, quite literally, how would it change the scene of the talks and global politics?
41.6% of its people fall below the international poverty line and development is an immediate requirement for its people. Everybody understands that and keeping exactly that in mind a Bali mandate was formed that underlined common but differentiated responsibility. Within the current framework, India shares the Non- Annex I space with Kiribati, which is almost being deemed uninhabitable by its government, amongst other countries. If there is negative equity between India and the United States, there is a negative equity between India and so many other Alliance of Small Island states, least developing Nations and Small Island Developing Nations. Does that not deem India differentially responsible?
Inaction would mean dealing with refugee migration especially from Bangladesh and nearby islands. Now, let’s for moments see the glass half full, if India manages to get its 41.6% of people out of poverty, in reality and not by revising its poverty line, and opts for a high carbon growth, what next? Would it revamp its infrastructure to meet the cuts under the Kyoto protocol? This obviously would be a difficult task considering a country plagued with slow infrastructure mobilisation and corruption. The health risk and ecosystem loss of this high carbon growth is a well known fact. And, India must remember this while claiming to put the interest of its people forward.
India’s long favorite argument for a deal has been that of the developed countries historical responsibility. The EU has been fundamental in strengthening the regime and there is a lesson that needs to be learnt. Playing a blame game is not going to help India in the future. Three state governments (Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu) have already passed a mandate to pass the cap and trade mechanism which would include a healthy free-market flexible mechanism with a robust carbon market. The corporate are going to love this just like India loves its corporate. In another fifty years, the emerging nations are going to be responsible for exactly what the developed nations are responsible for but in far greater magnitude but after 20 years of negotiations and the acceptance of science. India already spends thousands of dollars on adaptation and making this cut would only accelerate development.
Much to India’s discomfort, China and India are always clubbed together in the negotiation talks as the emerging economies. The comparison, although, is not completely unjustified. Their growth story started together with abject poverty, negligible infrastructure and an economy that was agrarian. China has increasingly been pressurized on adopting differentiated legal cuts from its developed peers and seems to be keeping its mandate flexible to include debates across the plenary. China’s green market is estimated to reach 15 percent of its GDP by 2015.
India has been trying for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council for years now. Countries have vouched support for its bid if it helps in building a positive climate talk. This is an opportunity India would definitely need to cease as it might be losing its importance on the international political meetings as seen in the recently concluded G20. The visits Indian government missionaries outside India made to the government of its host-country to hold talks on its stand, clearly explains the increasing importance and urgency of the climate talks and solidarity.
Developed nations like United States and Canada have failed us in the
past and India is continuing on the same path. We cannot afford being
clubbed with them simply because we neither are a superpower nor are we
without a moral sense or duty. Before it decides, the content of
agreement, penalties of non-compliance and monitoring methods, at least
need to be discussed. There has been positive movement on the technology
transfer and the green climate fund and to receive it, India would need
to pay some price. And like they say, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Will India try to have its cake and eat it too? Only time will tell.
I can be reached on email@example.com, twitter @pritiriyer.
For those who’ve grown up constantly plugged into the power grid, it’s almost impossible to think of life without an endless supply of outlets, power cords, and technology. But for an estimated 1.5 billion people around the world, power—from cutting and burning firewood to lighting kerosene lamps, paraffin, and candles—doesn't come easy.
According to the United Nations Foundation, almost 3 billion people rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating, about 1.5 billion have no access to electricity, and 1 billion more have access only to unreliable electricity networks. Smoke from polluting and inefficient cooking, lighting, and heating devices kills nearly two million people a year and causes a range of chronic illnesses and other health impacts.
In an effort to tackle health and development-related obstacles in developing countries, a company based in Germany and Ethiopia is bringing clean energy to “off-grid areas” around the world. Housed in a metal hut topped with a solar panel-filled roof, the designers have named their creation a "SolarKiosk," a small-scale power source for communities without electricity.
Each SolarKiosk is expected to provide enough power for villagers to charge their mobile phones and car batteries, run a computer, or power up a solar fridge. Goods sold from the Kiosk include solar lanterns, mobile phones, and cards to top-up cellular devices. Considering that the Kiosk's fridge may be the community's only one, it could be used to house everything from medication to chilled drinks.
The kiosk could also provide television, music, and internet depending on the locale. The creators project that a larger-size SolarKiosk could even produce enough energy to run a telecom tower reliably, while also providing security and maintenance. It will even be possible to connect multiple kiosks to create a local grid.
The world's first SolarKiosk set up shop on July 15 near Lake Langana in Ethiopia. Designed by Graft Architects, the project not only provides clean energy solutions to "off-grid" countries, but once installed, becomes a power-generating shop and business hub, providing jobs to community members and education on how solar products work. It also becomes a glowing, solar-powered light source at night.
Each kiosk comes in a lightweight, DIY kit, making it is easy to transport and build a kiosk in off-road, rural areas—the package could even be carried to its target location on the back of a donkey. With the exception of pre-manufactured electrical components, the kiosk's parts can be constructed from a range of local materials including bamboo, wood, adobe, stone, metal, or even recycled goods. Post-assembly, the entire structure is firmly anchored in the ground.
SolarKiosk is now looking for business partners and NGOs to help their expansion to areas around the globe in need of clean, sustainable energy. Anyone interested in joining the cause should send an email to welcome [at] solarkiosk [dot] eu.