Renewable energy, once a dream, lights up some of India’s slums

This slum on the outskirts of Bangalore is a mix of poverty and modernism. Most huts here have no attached toilet or running water, but solar panels of all sizes appear on their asbestos rooftops.

Such contradictory scenes aren’t rare across India. In the northern state of Bihar, small businesses charge their mobile phones with electricity generated from rice husk gasification. In farmlands here in south India, villagers harvest wind power to pump groundwater for irrigation.

India is doing something important to empower the poor with renewable energy. Right now more than 1 billion people in the world live without electricity. But experts say that as the world’s poorest people climb the income ladder, their demand for modern power and other comforts will further stress global energy supply while boosting greenhouse gas emissions. India, which has an unelectrified population almost equivalent to the total population of the United States, is becoming a global laboratory where such challenges are being resolved.

There are no reliable data on how many renewable energy solutions have been implemented among poor Indians, partly because the products are often bought by individuals or donated by businesses and nongovernmental organizations.

But Andrew Jeffries, principal energy specialist at the Asian Development Bank’s Delhi office, said there has been growing acceptance that clean energy technologies can be the best solution for energy access in certain circumstances.

“The Indian government has launched several stimulus programs, and this has supported the diffusion of these technologies in areas where they are not yet commercially viable,” Jeffries said.

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