Last December in Paris, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced to the gathered diplomats and dignitaries at COP21, “The sun is the source of all energy. The world must turn to solar, the power of our future.”
Modi’s words weren’t mere rhetoric, but a plain and clear reiteration of an ancient article of Hindu faith.
The sacred Rigveda, tells us that the sun is the source of energy for all living things, and the much revered Gayatri Mantra is itself dedicated to this ultimate source of energy. Harnessing the power of the sun, the Rigveda teaches, can keep the air, water, and our whole world clean and healthy.
With Diwali just behind us, the great Festival of Light, we should consider how to harness the sun anew, as a renewable energy resource to power our modern lives and better the lives of hundreds of millions.
India, as a land, is blessed with an abundance of this solar resource. With more than 300 sunny days a year, India could easily install 1,000 gigawatts of solar energy generation—that’s four times as much as the nation’s current peak power demand.
Prime Minister Modi’s government has set an ambitious target of increasing from the current 8GW to 175GW of solar energy capacity by 2022, including 40,000 MW of rooftop solar power capacity, as part of a strategy to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. India is both densely populated and has high solar insolation, providing ideal conditions for the exponential growth of solar power as a future energy source. Using the country’s deserts, farm lands and taking advantage of 300-330 sunny days a year, India can easily install around 1000 GW of solar generation – by using only 0.5% of its land.
With GDP growing at about 8 percent, solar photovoltaic panels are the only renewable energy resource that can bridge the ‘gap’ between supply and demand, especially in rural India where close to 80,000 villages are still not electrified. Solar energy can transform India and help to bring about decentralized distribution of energy, thereby empowering people at the grassroots level and eliminating the need for costly expansion of transmission and distribution systems.
To help show Indians the true virtues of solar power, Modi has asked gurus and interfaith spiritual leaders to install solar photovoltaics atop their ashrams, illustrating the simple, clean technology to their millions of devotees. Many have been quick to step up to the challenge, and to recognize the sun’s rightful role as an energy source in harmony with all living things.
In Amritsar, an ashram of the Radha Soami Dera sect installed a massive 19 megawatt solar array, which the Punjab government called the “world’s largest” rooftop solar project. The Modi government used the occasion of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s World Cultural Festival held earlier this year in New Delhi to launch an International Inter-Faith Solar Alliance. Faith leaders can help bring the message to a wider audience that the sun is the ultimate source of energy, and provides the best hope for promoting sustainable human development, reducing poverty and improving the lives of the billions of people worldwide still without electricity.
Why not rely on our vast deposits of coal, which already provides over half of India’s electricity? Air pollution from coal-fired power plants is already shortening the lives and harming the health of millions in India, and its impact on our freshwater is devastating. And then there are the climate impacts. As the signatories of the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change wrote last year, “Climate change creates pain, suffering, and violence. Unless we change how we use energy...we will only further this pain, suffering, and violence.”
Of course, faith alone will not transition our country to clean, renewable solar power. We must work together, within India and abroad, to leave coal pollution in our past and harness the sun’s rays with photovoltaics. At COP21, the Prime Minister launched the Inter national Solar Alliance with the vision “to bring clean, affordable and renewable energy within the reach of all,” and serving as a common platform for cooperation of the “sunshine countries” that sit between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The alliance also taps industrialized countries to help mobilize more than US$1 trillion of investment for technology and capacity building to help deploy solar across the developing world.
This isn’t an ask for charity, and Indians have already proven willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the planet. Earlier this month, India played a leading role in passing the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, effectively freezing and cutting the use of HFCs, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, and possibly avoiding 0.5 degrees Celcius of global warming. Despite the short-term concerns that this amendment could put much-desired air conditioning out of reach for many Indians, the government recognized the global importance of the deal, and led in the spirit of cooperation and international collaboration.
Meanwhile, India faces a $21 billion annual funding shortfall to meet our stated clean energy goals, according to a recent report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). The New Development Bank could, if funded by the nations who got rich by burning fossil fuels, help finance India’s solar transition, to the benefit of all living things and the planet.
With the glowing diyas of Diwali in mind, let us celebrate the victory of light over darkness. Of goodness over evil. And of hope for the future. And we should likewise celebrate the sun—the greatest of all lights that every day conquers darkness—as our great hope for a clean, healthy, prosperous, and bright future.