The 2000 people who live in the village of Dharnai, in Bihar – one of India’s poorest states – had got used to living without electricity. But they didn’t like it.
High tension electric wires passed nearby, without powering even a single light bulb in the village. Villagers had to rely on kerosene lamps and diesel generators.
The electric cables still by-pass the village. But its 450 homes, 50 small businesses, two schools, one health centre and the streets all now have electricity – thanks to solar power. Add to that 10 solar irrigation pumps, which also run on the 100 kilowatt micro-grid. Thanks to Greenpeace, Dharnai is India’s first fully solar-powered village.
“While India was growing leaps and bounds, we were stuck here for the last 30 years, trying everything in the book to get electricity,” said Kamal Kishore, who lives in the village. “But now I can proudly say that Dharnai is a leader in innovation. We have established our identity as an energy self-sufficient village and can compete with the country in its race to growth”.
A third of the rural population of India have no access to electricity, which is why Dharnai is such an important symbol. Rural villages don’t need expensive power lines linked to a grid supplied by dirty coal-burning power stations. Solar is the answer to their electricity needs.
Solar is already being harnessed across the world from rural India to the US to China. The Chinese have just begun construction of a huge commercial solar plant in the sun-drenched Gobi Desert, 25 km2 of land which will feature six huge solar towers linked up to solar mirrors. It’ll provide enough electricity for one million homes, and cut coal use by more than 4 million tonnes a year, saving nearly 900,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
China spends more on renewables than any other country, and that’s helping drive down costs so that more countries, businesses and homes are turning to solar, not just for environmental reasons but because it makes economic sense too. In many regions of the world, it’s cheaper than coal or gas.
Solar PV (photovoltaic) capacity has grown from 3.7 GW in 2004 to 177 GW in 2014 – that’s a 48-fold increase in ten years.
Aaah, you say, but what happens when the sun doesn’t shine?
Well, photovoltaic cells work on cloudy days too. And that silver bullet of solar energy storage is fast approaching. There’s huge investment in super-size batteries using lithium-ion or lithium-oxygen.
Add to that technologies like solar roadways, solar panels in space, floating solar farms on the sea, see-through solar and even spray-on solar – and you can see why we’re just at the beginning of a solar power revolution.
- The International Energy Agency says the prices for solar PV fell around 80% between 2008 and 2012.
- Bloomberg estimates that PV solar worldwide will increase 4-fold between now and 2020, and more than 12-fold by 2030.
Joanna Mills is a Communications Strategist for Greenpeace International.
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