Indian Project Shows Solar Power Affordable, U.N. Says
OSLO -- A solar power project in India supplying electricity to 100,000 people will be widened to other developing nations after showing that clean energy can be cheaper than fossil fuels, a U.N. report said on Sunday.
The $1.5 million U.N.-backed project would be extended to China, Indonesia, Mexico and Algeria and several other nations to help people in rural areas break dependence on kerosene lamps or unreliable grid-supplied electricity.
"We are addressing the notion that renewable energy is irrelevant to poor countries and the poorer communities," Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme), told Reuters.
Renewable energies such as water, wind or solar power avoid health damage from fumes released by kerosene lamps widely used in developing nations and emit none of the greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that are widely blamed for global warming.
Under the project, the number of Solar Home Systems financed in the pilot area of Karnataka state, southern India, has risen to 18,000 -- providing power for an estimated 100,000 people -- from 1,400 in four years.
The systems provide a few hours of daily power for lightbulbs in homes or shops or to run a radio, a fan or a television. Electric light lets people read more easily than by a dim kerosene lamp.
The lighting "has been credited with better grades for schoolchildren, better productivity for cottage-based industries such as needlework artisans, and even better sales at fruit stands, where produce is no longer spoiled by fumes from kerosene lamps," a U.N. statement said.
The project may also help to lift rural families from poverty, a goal for 2015 set by world governments in 2000. Energy use is surging in developing nations, which are burning ever more fossil fuels in tandem with rising economic growth.
The United Nations wants to widen the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, which binds 35 rich nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases until 2012, to more countries. It wants developing nations like India to brake their soaring emissions.
Indian banks have also helped families to fund purchases of the solar systems, costing $300 to $500 in a region where annual family incomes are just $1,200.
"It does sound a lot but the irony is that people are paying more for the kerosene, and that's why the banks are taking it up," Steiner said.
Canara Bank and Syndicate Bank were initial backers and the Bank of Maharashtra and Sewa Bank joined the scheme in 2007. The U.N. subsidy, phased out over time, helped cut initial interest rate payments.
"The India programme's success has already inspired a sister effort in Tunisia," a U.N. statement said. "Similar programmes are upcoming for China, Indonesia, Egypt, Mexico, Ghana, Morocco and Algeria."