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Green goals

Friday, 20 December 2013 | Karan Bhardwaj

A latest report by WWF and CEEW highlights that innovative renewable energy applications like solar food dryers and milk pasteuriser will be the future of India. By Karan Bhardwaj 

If you Google news for renewable sources of energy, the recent headlines highlight Scotland’s landmark achievement of 40 per cent of renewable energy, or Australia’s improving figures in this sector or Catalonia (Spain) being declared as energy independent. Back home, there’s no such great news except for the fact that things are moving on, getting better and renewable sources of energy are welcomed in rural as well as urban areas with equal enthusiasm. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission Phase 1 (JNNSM) is poised to make India a leader in solar power as its growth agenda increased the installed capacity from around 30 MW to more than 2,000 MW. However, when we think of renewable sources of energy, imagination is confined to switching on lights and fans. A latest report by WWF-India and Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) jointly details 14 renewable energy applications covering four different energy sources — biomass, cooking stoves, solar space heating and cooling systems.

“The potential of renewable energy to transform our lives and ways of living is underestimated and under-appreciated. By examining its applications beyond simply switching on lights and fans, we can begin to broaden our technological horizons, deepen the foundations of business models offering a range of additional energy services, strengthen the financial ecosystem to support decentralised energy, and most importantly, fuel our imaginations to develop solutions for everyday challenges,” said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of CEEW.

The report has applications like solar/wind desalinator, food dryer, water purifier, geothermal cooling system, wind water pump and solar aerator. “Take water pumping for instance. Largely water pumps are used in agriculture. There are more than 26 million pumps in the country. Of them, 16 million run on electricity, which is not regular and rest on diesel, which is a polluting and expensive fuel. Even if you replace half of them by solar pumps, then you have significant reduction in carbon dioxide and millions of liters of diesel saved. In urban areas, commercial buildings consume lots of energy to maintain the normal ambience (coolers and heaters). If you have efficient building design using solar and geothermal cooling system, then you can save electricity consumption with reduction in carbon footprints,” he said.

Arunabha was shocked to see the growing impact of this energy. One of his recent visits in the tribal villages in Karnataka landed him into a farm labourer’s home who has installed solar panels on his mud hut. “There is a tradition of wearing clean, crisp clothes in South. This guy has two shirts and three lungis. But he had to spend Rs 50 every month on detergents since his shirts would often get dirty by the fumes of kerosene stove. So he took a loan and installed the solar panels and now his laundry expenditure has come down significantly,” said Ghosh highlighting the lifestyle transformation that brings with the energy forms. The last two years have seen an increase in geothermal cooling system, solar ambient cooling system, improved cook stores, where biomass is used but the efficiency is better than traditional choolahs. In coming days, milk pasteurisers and food dryers can take a big shape. “We know how much of food is wasted rotting in godowns. So food dryers can help in desiccating the fruits and vegetables,” he said.

Unfortunately, renewable sector is considered risky when it comes to technology. Also, there is a lack of robust system to financially support the companies that are investing in this sector. “The biggest challenge is to create an interesting business model around that technology. Because this is off the grid and decentralised, there is no long term contract that you find with utility. So we have to become innovative. Revenue model is important. Is it s one off payment or pay per use? Can we use prepaid cards for renewable energy like we do for cell phones? Is it based on getting through franchise or company set up its own centres in cities?” he said.

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