Solar Energy in Rural India

Science & Technology

by Shyam Balsekar

Solar energy is the energy which is received from the sun's rays. Being a tropical country, India receives a large amount of sunshine throughout the year and is therefore ideally suited for making use of sunshine as a source of energy. The use of solar energy is extremely important as it is a source of clean energy, which reduces the use of environmentally harmful fuels such as coal, kerosene and diesel.

The first recorded history of solar energy in India dates back to 1876, when an Englishman, W Adams, developed an octagonal oven with eight mirrors, which was used to cook the rations for seven soldiers in two hours. Seeing the potential of solar cooking, M K Ghosh commercialised the solar box cooker.

Since then and right up to the 1980s, with help from the Indian government, many companies have harnessed solar energy to create appliances for cooking purposes. It is thus not surprising to know that two of the world's largest solar cooking installations are in India. These are at the Tirupati Temple and at the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple, where solar energy is used to cook food that feeds lakhs of devotees on a daily basis.

Today, India has several solar energy projects in the pipeline. They will generate millions of units of electricity using photovoltaic technology. This is extremely encouraging as it will fulfill India's requirement for electricity without harming the environment or increasing global warming.

Solar energy can be harnessed in two ways - firstly, by converting sunshine into heat (solar thermal) and secondly, by converting sunshine into electricity using photovoltaic panels (solar pv).  Solar energy is being increasingly used in Indian villages to improve the rural lifestyle and also to make energy environment-friendly.  Some of the different ways in which solar energy is used in Indian villages are as follows:



These solar lanterns have built-in batteries which are charged by small solar panels.  These solar lanterns are slowly replacing the traditional kerosene lamps, which give out a lot of smoke that is harmful to the environment as well as to the health of the villagers.



These solar cookers focus the rays of the sun on a vessel in which rice, pulses and vegetables can be boiled and cooked. These cookers reduce the use of firewood and kerosene, which are otherwise used in the villages for cooking.



Solar-operated water pumps are used in villages to pump out water, which can be used for irrigation.  This reduces the use of environmentally harmful fuels such as diesel and kerosene, which were earlier used to operate these pumps.



These heaters heat up water by trapping the heat from sunshine inside a glass covered box or glass tube. The rays of the sun enter the glass tubes, where they heat up the water. Once the sunshine gets converted to heat, the glass does not allow the heat to escape and so the water stays hot. This is called the glass house effect.  These solar water heaters reduce the use of electricity and firewood.



Many villages  in India do not have electricity. In such villages, the government has installed solar street lights to provide lighting as they do not need electricity supply to function.



The glass house effect is also used to dry various rural and agricultural products such as fruits, fish and crops. This helps a lot in the production of raisins, dried figs and dried fish and helps in generating additional incomes.


These are a few examples of how solar energy is used to change and improve the lives of people in rural India. The government of India is giving a lot of encouragement to the use of solar energy. This will not only benefit our country and our people, but also help the Earth.


Shyam Balsekar is the CEO of Linear Technologies, a company that offers innovative solutions in the fields of environment and safety.