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Here comes the sun: Solar energy to power up India’s health centres?

43433021 - big satellite dishes antena and solar panels at rangdum, padum, zanskar valley, india. Copyright: <a href=''>nuiiko / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Solar panels in Rangdum, Jammu and Kashmir in Northern India.

Solar power could be the answer to the energy woes of India’s health centres.

A new scheme being piloted in the states of Haryana, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu is exploring solar power as the primary means of powering India’s health centres. It will be a joint effort between the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW).

Reuters reports the initiative will “set up replicable, cost-effective solar power plants at health centres.” It calls the plan “a shot in the arm for India’s health centres” – long beleaguered by lack of adequate access to power, which endangers patients and obstructs healthcare delivery.

The use of some solar power at healthcare facilities is not unheard of, but not as the primary source of power. ICMR Director General Dr Soumya Swaminathan says

“This project will see the potential of looking at solar as the primary source of electricity, and not necessarily only as a back-up…the ultimate objective is to be able to power all critical services through solar in the event of a grid failure.”

Inadequate power supply is a major obstacle to the provision of adequate healthcare. One billion people in the developing world were left “without access to adequate healthcare” in 2013 because of energy poverty, according to The Guardian. In 2015, unelectrified health centres serviced almost 35 million Indians – with one in every two primary health centres suffering power outages or no electricity at all.

Investing in renewable energy solutions such as solar power is a wise move to improve the health and wellbeing of India’s people. It could, though,  also strengthen and help realise the environmental commitments India has undertaken, such as ratifying the Paris agreement on climate change last year. The Agreement  commits India to generating 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by the year 2030. The country also looks to have renewable energy capacity of 175 gigawatts within the next five years.

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