India has installed huge quantities of new solar panels over the past five years, but that push isn’t looking like the great green success story many environmentalists have made it out to be. Bloomberg reports:
Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, declared itself fully electrified in 2012, relying on solar panels or small wind turbines to cover remote areas. India considers a village electrified if at least 10 percent of the households and public places such as schools have electricity.
But theft and damage have plunged 288 villages and 1,500 hamlets in Maharashtra back into darkness, according to Saboo. “Most of the equipment is either stolen or not working,” he said. “Now we have decided that a majority of these villages will be electrified in the conventional way.”
India’s power problems are well known at this point. The country struggles mightily with generating enough supply to meet demand—blackouts plague urban areas while many rural areas are entirely off the grid. Because of their distributed nature, solar panels in many ways seemed like a great fit for this problem. Moreover, electrifying India has been a politically expedient policy as it’s helped Modi’s BJP to shore up votes.
But in its eagerness to deploy solar, India seems to have gotten ahead of itself. Installations have been picked over by thieves, and in rural villages there’s a lack of understanding of how to maintain these advanced systems. Bloomberg has more:
“The instances of theft and destruction of distributed renewable energy appliances has been very prevalent in programs especially run by aid agencies as part of corporate social responsibility or where the government provides a subsidy,” said Jarnail Singh, India director at The Climate Group, a London-based organization promoting low-carbon solutions. ”This is because there is no maintenance of equipment after installation.”
As Germany knows well at this point, recklessly pushing renewables at any cost can create more problems that it solves. Solar can still help bring power to hundreds of millions of Indians, but this isn’t a success story—not yet anyway. There’s a lot more work to be done, and ensuring that these installations are properly maintained and protected from thieves would be a good step towards a smarter rural electrification program.