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Using solar technology to meet the energy needs of a growing population while promoting low carbon development
India has a population of more than 1.25 billion – a number which is rapidly growing and becoming increasingly urban. Subsequently, household energy needs for cooking, lighting and water heating are accelerating. Solar water heating units not only displace electricity which is primarily drawn from a fossil-fuel dominated grid, but can also help reduce peak load demand and the associated blackouts from a shortage of grid supply. In a country with abundant solar resources, solar water heaters allow for on-demand access to hot water even when there are power cuts, making the technology more reliable than the conventional use of electric systems.
The project uses a range of channels to distribute the solar water heaters, primarily private entrepreneurs or larger entities that act as solar water heater dealers and franchise sub-dealers. Some units are also sold directly to customers, and in some instances, partnerships with city, state and regional governments are also used for distribution. The project developer conducts awareness programmes in schools and general public exhibitions to help increase uptake of its solar products.
So far the project has largely been focused in Bangalore, Karnataka which makes up approximately 50% of the installations. However, the technology is applicable throughout the country and the first monitoring period included implementation in a range of other states, including Maharashtra, Andra Pradesh, Delhi, Goa, Gujurat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The project will continue to have a focus on the domestic household segment going forward, specifically smaller apartments and flats that have historically been underserved by the industry. Outside the domestic market, educational, religious and charitable institutions will continue to be targeted. The solar units installed in educational institutions tend to serve dormitories on residential campuses.
Further details on alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In addition to delivering approximately 120,000 tonnes of emissions reductions annually to help take urgent action to combat climate change (SDG 13), the project delivers a number of other sustainable development benefits, including:
- Affordable and clean energy: Solar water heaters use free solar radiation as a source of renewable energy and therefore help diversify energy sources and increase the share of sustainable resources. In the absence of the project, users relied on electrical water heaters drawing electricity from the power grid which is primarily fossil fuel based. Importantly, solar water heating reduces energy costs for users since solar energy is a free resource. Given that an estimated 20-30% of electricity in India is used to heat water in urban households, commercial and institutional buildings, the cost saving is of notable potential. By replacing grid-dependent electric units with a 200 litre/day capacity solar water heater, it is estimated that the typical household can save on average approximately INR 9000 (approximately USD 134) per year.
- Decent Work and Economic Growth: All the solar products are manufactured domestically in a factory in Bangalore, offering employment opportunities for local residents in manufacturing, distribution, installation and maintenance roles. Approximately 160 employees are directly employed, of which about 110 are in production, 20 are in office administration and 30 are field staff (marketing, sales and customer care departments). There are also approximately 300 authorised dealers who each employ on average four to five staff plus numerous sub-contractors as regional and local sales agents. 50% of sales are currently around Bangalore but the project is distributing solar water heaters throughout the country. As the project is being rolled out across the entire country, it demonstrates an effective example of the commercial opportunity to scale up renewable energy technologies.
- Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: The project is facilitating the installation of new energy infrastructure within the country, including the required supporting structures and piping to enable the solar technology to scale.
- Good Health and Well-being: Using solar water heating units reduces the concentration of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen monoxide (NO) against the baseline of warm water supply through electric flow heaters. Studies show a significant correlation between high concentrations of SO2 or NO and the mortality rate.
- Quality Education: This project provided several training and capacity building programmes to plumbers of the region for installation of the solar water heaters. This additional skill will bring in additional income for the plumbers for installation and any repairs of the heaters.
- Gender Equality: Altogether seven of 30 managerial positions are staffed with women. This value goes beyond the average share of women in managerial positions in India, identified in two different studies.
- Responsible Consumption and Production: The project developer is part of a larger organisation that sponsors and provides educational programmes in schools and colleges. The goal of these programmes are to help make children energy conscious and create awareness about global warming. At the time of reporting, they had conducted workshops in 69 schools in Bangalore since 2009.