While playing around with alternative sources of energy for the cars at his farm in Kishanpura village in Punjab, automobile columnist Kishie Singh realised that, if not to run his cars, he could use the bounties of the sun and the wind to light a few bulbs, run a few fans and heat water for the hot-water bath the family so loves. This was about two decades ago when they had electricity for barely two hours a day.
And so he got two solar panels installed by a company that was hard selling the idea of solar water-heating to people not only suspicious of them, but also unwilling to give it a try. A bit of pipework later, his mother, Malvinder Kaur, got steaming hot water in her bath, as did his wife, Neena. The cook was also happy; there was hot water in the kitchen. “We had hot water in all the washrooms and the kitchen and even in the servants' house... for free,” says Singh.
The solar water-heating in his farm, in Patiala district, created quite a buzz. Someone making solar cookers approached Singh, asking him to promote the product and offered one for half the price. Singh paid the full price, Rs 600 then, and returned home with a big box with a mirror on the inside of the lid and four black-painted aluminium containers with lids.
The cook, however, was not convinced. “Where do we light the fire? How will the smoke exit?” he asked. There was visible irritation when he was told that the box would have to be turned every half an hour or so, in the direction of the sun. Anyway, they put in the rice, lentils and potatoes and followed the directions. “Two hours later, we had the best-cooked rice, creamy lentils and the potatoes just needed to be sauteed. It was effortless, lovely and naturally cooked,” says Singh. In due course, the solar cooker turned into an oven, with Neena's famous chocolate cakes coming out in a never-failing manner.
When they moved to Kansal in 2000, the beautiful colony was yet to be recognised by the state government and did not have sanctioned power connection. Singh got a few solar lanterns, which looked like the regular ones, but had CFL bulbs. The lanterns sunbathed during the day and lit up every room when dark. “We had to repair and later replace the batteries that could light up the house for six hours each.... Now the technology makes it possible to run lanterns and fans and anything for almost 18 hours after full charge,” he says.
Solar energy is not only free after the initial costs, it is also fashionable. It is clean energy, which the Modi government is giving a big push. Nowadays, solar panels are not only placed on the roof, but also form the roofs of sit-outs and porches in homes across the country. Bengaluru, for instance, has many such homes. Almost all of Ladakh is powered by solar energy. There are also solar energy parks that generate power, which goes to the power grid and which discoms distribute to homes. Then there is the government's plan of solar cities, which will ensure rooftop solar power plants that can be used to meet partial or full needs of the house, and the owner can sell the excess through a meter, to the grid, to earn extra income. Cities like Delhi are toying with the proposal of having solar panels on all available rooftops. And, of course, there is the idea of covering canals with solar panels, both to generate power and keep the water clean and flowing.
So, it is a good idea to keep solar possibilities in mind when building a new house. Some states offer subsidies and incentives, and some banks offer soft loans for installing solar heaters and panels.
Depending on what one installs, the initial cost can be recovered by saving on energy bills over a couple of years. Then on it is free, save a small maintenance cost.
A small home with four or five members need not go totally solar, and solar energy can be generated even in an apartment, using the south-facing walls and windows, or using solar lanterns. A solar-powered desert cooler on one window, and a solar-powered exhaust fan at the top of a central duct can cool the entire house, all day, at no cost. With just solar water heating, a few fans and lanterns, and a solar cooker, one can begin the clean energy journey. And, with the entry of affordable Chinese solar panels, the cost of solar energy has dropped substantially.
Now is a good time to go solar.