Published: 08th October 2019
India's Solar Man Chetan Solanki inspired a million people to go solar on Gandhi Jayanti. Here's how
This Gandhi Jayanti, this IIT Bombay professor encouraged people to power down and use solar power so that we have a semblance of a future to look forward to
On October 2, the 150th birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi, more than a million people across 80 countries lit solar lamps and took a pledge together to create a non-violent, green environment. It's all thanks to the efforts of Chetan Singh Solanki, who works with the Department of Energy Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay — you probably know him as the Solar Man of India.
On Gandhi Jayanti, people were asked to surrender their electricity connection and go solar. “If you stick to the essential appliances at home, you can easily make the switch to solar, whether it's a house, factory, school or hospital. For instance, there's always sunlight available around us during the day, but we close our windows, draw the curtains and turn on electrical lights. Similarly, when you design your house, you can use solar flaps to reduce the heat and cool the house down. You can easily bring down energy consumption by following steps like these,” says Solanki.
Empowering next gen: Dr Solanki teaching kids how to build solar circuits
The event was part of a movement called Energy Swaraj, initiated by Solanki to promote a self-sustained energy system in our country. “Gandhi's idea of Gram Swaraj was to be locally sufficient in terms of food, clothes and everything else. But can we be energy sufficient today?” asks Solanki. “The answer is yes. There are many renewable energy sources, particularly solar energy. It is economically vital and technologically advanced. We should involve local communities to find their own solutions for energy. People have the capacity to manufacture solar products, install and use them. It's going to create jobs, empower women and it is making the country independent,” he says.
Solanki took a break from his job at IIT and visited about 30 countries and 30 cities within India, all within six months. “I've been learning how solar energy can be used for the last 20 years. The event was a hands-on training where students were sensitised on the energy scenario of the world and what solar energy can and cannot do and various components of the solar circuit. They also learnt how to test the components, assemble it and together they switched on their lights and took a pledge to create a non-violent environment. We will also be doing this training in hospitals, railway platforms, housing societies and companies,” adds Solanki.
“Energy Swaraj has to become a public movement,” says Solanki, and adds, “Every government is so busy in their day-to-day affairs despite knowing that climate change is such a serious threat to the existence of humanity itself. No government will be able to bring a solution because they are elected for a short term. Sustainability is a question of 50 or 60 years, not five years. So the public has to understand why Energy Swaraj is important.”
The critical situation today is that on one side, we want to consume more energy and on the other side, because of climate change, we want to cut down on energy. That's the contradiction. It has been proved for centuries that energy is the driving force of growth. At the same time, energy has also become the key cause of climate change. Solanki's Energy Swaraj concept can provide the solution to this. “It's all about being locally self-sufficient. A majority of countries in the world are importers of energy because coal, oil and gas is concentrated only in a few countries. India is the biggest importer of coal and the third-largest importer of oil and gas. We spend 35 per cent of our foreign exchange in importing energy. We need energy for everything. But importing shouldn't be the answer. Our idea is to try and be locally sufficient in terms of energy,” he says.
Solanki and his team have been doing a lot of experiments in the field. They have reached about 6.5 million families already and have trained more than 9,000 women in making solar lamps. They have also been helping them set up solar shops and factories. Solanki believes that discipline is key to saving energy. I have a principle called ANG — Avoid, Minimise and Generate. If you're not going to avoid the use of energy, even if it's solar energy, we won't have enough. Even solar energy does not carry a zero carbon footprint. First, you need to avoid, then minimise it using efficient appliances, like using LEDs which consume much lesser power,” he says.
He adds, “Middle-aged people like me are not going to be in this world about 40 years from now. It's the younger generation that is going to face the brunt of climate change as its severity increases. My Energy Yatra had two intentions — one, it's a tribute to Gandhi's idea of production by the masses. He used to say that there's enough in the world for everyone's need, but not everyone's greed. If you follow his principle, you can adopt solar energy easily.” The second intention, he says was to gather young people and encourage them to be ambassadors of solar energy. Reach Out: bit.ly/2VdU8Wj