India is going to use godmen to spread the use of solar energy

Big boom coming.
Big boom coming.
Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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The Gayatri Mantra from the ancient Rig Veda is the most revered of hymns in Hinduism—and it is dedicated to the ultimate source of energy: the sun. 

An energy-starved India wants to create 40,000MW of rooftop solar power capacity by 2022 to tide over critical power shortages in the Asia’s third-largest economy. So, the government is looking to rope in an unlikely set of brand ambassadors for its ambitious solar energy program: India’s godmen.

The Narendra Modi government has asked spiritual leaders to install solar power units in their ashrams, or hermitages, and promote this renewable form of energy among millions of their followers.

“Spiritual and interfaith gurus have a large number of domestic and overseas followers who visit their ashrams or meditation centres in big numbers,” Upendra Tripathi, India’s new and renewable energy secretary, told the Times of India newspaper. “So, we feel the gurus are ideally placed to showcase and demonstrate the values and virtues of solar energy to a global audience.”

Presently, an ashram of the Radha Soami Dera sect in Amritsar has one of the world’s largest single rooftop solar power facilities. The system is spread across 80 acres and can generate 19MW of power. The plant was set up in May 2016 by the Hindu religious group.

Other spiritual leaders, including the Bengaluru-based Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, have also been setting up solar power units across villages in the country over the past few years.

The government, though, wants to build a data bank of 100 large ashrams for this purpose. “If we can get the commitment of even 1MW of solar capacity from each ashram, it will be a big leap of faith and encourage others. Solar projects will help ashrams reduce their power bill and they can also sell electricity to the grid,” Tripathi said.

India’s current rooftop solar energy capacity is just 740 MW.

The Modi government has focused on ramping up the country’s renewable energy resources, especially solar energy, at a time when the country faces critical energy shortage. In fact, the prime minister has called solar energy the “ultimate solution” to India’s energy crisis.

Modi is merely reiterating an ancient article of faith.