It needs no elaboration that the world is today at the crossroads due to contradictory energy scenario wherein billions of people are without energy access in some parts of the world, while some are over-exploiting the energy resources particularly fossil fuels. This is creating a huge imbalance in nature, leading to catastrophic climate change. We know that the world is already hotter by nearly 1°C. The 2018 IPCC Report finds that “limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in energy and there is need to adopt 100% Renewable Energy as early as 2050 in the purview of the climate change. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) also calls for ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. More than one billion people lack access to electricity, while an estimated 2.8 million people lack access to clean cooking fuels.
In order to change this scenario and to educate the people to take effective steps in this regard, Prof Chetan Singh Solanki from IIT Bombay is promoting ‘Energy Swaraj’ based on the Gandhian principle of ‘Gram Swaraj’ where complete self-reliance is the guiding mantra. Though terms like climate change and planet sustainability would have been unheard in the times of Gandhiji, these days’ phenomenon has a strange link to his thought process then…some 70 years ago. Gandhiji propagated complete self-reliance where a village will produce all products of its needs and consume locally. ‘Energy Swaraj’ is an extension of ‘Gram Swaraj’ where the Gandhian principle of ‘not mass production but production by the masses’ is more relevant now and can be applied in the field of energy sustainability. Gram Swaraj was based on self-governance, self-reliance and non-violence. The idea of Energy Swaraj is applying the principle of localisation, wherein local communities are capable enough to fulfil their own energy needs, says Dr Solanki while talking to ‘Organiser’ in New Delhi.
Dr Solanki believes through it we can address the UN’s SDGs of 7 and 13, “Energy access for all” and “Climate Action” simultaneously. “Energy Swaraj” is the Localized Energy Self-Sufficiency through the use of modern renewable energy sources like Solar Power. Under the Energy Swaraj, the local communities are being empowered through technology and skill transfer for fulfilling their energy needs. Empowering communities will help in local job creation and therefore, strengthening the rural economy. Local people can be trained to own, manage, and operate solar enterprises at every level including assembly, sale, after-sales service, and manufacturing.
One such successful attempt has been made under Solar Urja through Localization for Sustainability (SoULs) initiative by the IIT Bombay where solar-ecosystem has been created in the most backward district of India, Dungarpur, Rajasthan. This initiative began by providing 40,000 solar study lamps. Consequently, five solar shops were established. Now, the district has its own module manufacturing plant which is owned and operated by tribal women. This is a stepping stone towards Energy Swaraj. Till date, more than four million students and thus, their families have been benefitted from the SoULS Initiative and more than 7,000 local people of which over 5,000 women have gained technology-based livelihoods. Since most of the Latin American countries and Sub-Saharan African countries have geographically isolated communities, the concept of Energy Swaraj is even more relevance for them also.
To strengthen the concept of Energy Swaraj and for taking it across the world, literally, Prof Solanki has embarked on a yatra – Gandhi Global Solar Yatra, which was started from Gandhiji’s abode in Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Ashram on December 25, 2018. The Yatra while traversing through several cities of India is reaching several continents of the world like Asia, Africa, America, Europe and more. It will culminate on October 2, 2019, in New Delhi to coincide with 150th Birth Year of Mahatma celebration all over the country. Millions of people across the globe are joining the Yatra, which includes thousands of schools, educational institutes, Embassies, Ministries and organisations.
The Solar Yatra has been supported by the Union Ministry of Culture, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Renewable Energy and Ministry of Skill Development. The International Solar Alliance, a UN body on solar energy, is also supporting. The Yatra is expected to visit about three dozen countries of the world.
“During the Yatra functions are being held at about 20,000 locations all over the world. In the beginning, we had targeted that at least one million children should join these functions, but now we hope that about than three million school children will join. To reach maximum people the Yatra has joined hands with various schools, colleges, institutions and voluntary organisations. It is because the nature is facing damage due to all people. Hence all have a role to play in it. We want to make it a mass movement so that the people themselves start saying that they do not want electricity connection and they will produce their energy themselves,” says Prof Solanki.
He points out that 7.6 billion people on the earth today consume more resources than the earth’s capacity to generate in the same year. Not sustainable! To save the planet from consistent depletion of resources due to irresponsible human activities which cause irrevocable damage, we need to switch towards green energy sources like Solar Power. This is the way forward as it will not only utilise energy efficiently for sustainability but also curb greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy technology-based solutions today, particularly solar due to advancement in technologies and reduction in cost, should be utilised to meet the complete 24x7 energy needs locally and sustainably. The approach of generation and consumption of energy to fulfil our requirements need a relook,” Dr Solanki added.