By most accounts, solar energy was invented in the United States—most likely in Colorado. In recent years, other countries have taken the lead in solar energy leaving the U.S. in the dust—coal dust and particulate pollution from fossil fuels to be exact. The latest evidence of this is an announcement by India that it will build the world’s largest solar generation plant.
The Indian government has announced plans to develop a 4GW solar project, near Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan. According to the details of an official release, India’s Department of Heavy Industry (DHI) has initiated the process of setting up the Sambhar Ultra Mega Green Solar Power Project in the 23,000 acre area of Sambhar Salts Limited, a subsidiary of the government-run Hindustan Salts Limited (HSL) in Rajasthan.
The 4GW project would produce 6,000 million kWh per year to the distribution companies of various states through India’s national grid. The first phase of the project, which will be 1GW, is likely to be complete in three years (by the end of 2016). The first phase will increase India’s solar energy ten-fold.
The finished 4-gigawatt plant would generate as much electricity as the four coal-fired Ultra Mega Power Plants (UMPP) now under construction. But those plants are struggling to hold prices low due to reliance on imported low-carbon coal. The solar plant’s operations won’t be subject to any such constraints. American coal companies hope to export coal to India and are lobbying Congress to force the Obama administration to approve new coal export facilities.
In addition to cutting carbon, getting India off of coal would help reduce the 100, 000+ deaths each year caused by coal plant pollution.
India hopes that development of these large solar projects will lower the cost of solar making it comparable to the cost of coal—but cleaner.
To distribute the new electricity, IBM and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation finalized a plan to link technological infrastructure in a massive stretch between India’s business and political capitals. Grid improvements will be necessary to fully take advantage of the new solar plant, as India’s often experiences outages and rationing, especially outside of big cities.
India is also using solar energy to provide affordable clean drinking water to remote villages where tens of millions of people drink contaminated water due to the high cost of delivering bottled water.
Sarvajal, an Indian company, is developing solar-powered “water ATMs” for remote villages. The ATMs would allow entrepreneurs to profitably sell water in smaller villages where transporting bottled water is prohibitively expensive. Without solar energy, the availability of electricity and its cost made the ATM’s unfeasible.
Unfortunately in the United States, big oil and coal companies and greedy corporate billionaires like the Koch Brothers have collectively purchased enough members of Congress and state-legislatures to stifle any massive expansion of solar or wind energy in the United States. Even though renewable energy has doubled under the Obama Administration, Congress continues to wage a successful war on clean energy.
There are millions of acres of government land that could be used for wind and solar farms larger than the one in India. We could use solar energy to establish a nation-wide system of charging stations for electric cars, for example. We could help homeowners install solar panels in their homes to power charging stations for their own electric vehicles. We could make all street, parking lot, and traffic lights solar powered particularly of we invested more in efficient electrical storage systems.
Unfortunately, all these innovations are made difficult or impossible by a Congress and state legislatures whose members are drunk on oil and addicted to fossil fuels. They are happy to watch the Arctic melt and force Santa to trade in his sleigh and reindeer for a power boat.
Where does it end?
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