Poor families in India are being given a New Year renewable energy life-line as a result of a donation by one of the world's leading solar power companies.
BP Solar USA is donating over a million dollars worth of solar modules to BASE (Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy), who in turn are dispatching them to rural and semi-rural areas of India where over 60 per cent of the population is without electricity.
The solar systems will be used for water pumping, lighting and for powering telecommunications services including cyber cafes.
Virginia Sonntag-O'Brien, Managing Director of BASE, which is a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Collaborating Centre, said: "Lack of access to reliable and affordable energy is one of the main obstacles to economic development in developing countries".
"These solar photovoltaic modules, amounting to 635 kilowatts and equivalent to 10 per cent of annual solar installation in India, will not only help overcome this hurdle, but will do so in a clean and non-polluting way. This is sustainable development in action," she said.
Photovoltaic solar cells are made of semi-conducting materials that directly convert sunlight into electricity. The simplest photovoltaic cells power small devices such as watches and calculators, while more complex systems can light houses and provide power to an electrical grid.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: "I welcome this generous gift. Last year's World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) specifically recognised the vital need of improving access to economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound energy services as a way of tackling poverty".
"Two years ago, the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force report concluded that alternative forms of electricity generation could be delivered to over a billion people by 2010. This initiative in India, bringing together the private sector, financial bodies and organizations like BASE, is just the kind of action needed to bring this target and timetable to fruition," he said.
A proportion of the panels will be sold to paying customers by the Syndicate Bank of India, which has established schemes for promoting solar pumping and lighting in rural areas. The revenues generated along with other donations and grants will in turn be used to fund the installation of the remaining panels in poor communities where customers will pay an affordable fee for the service.
Ms Sonntag-O'Brien said a variety of partners were making the initiative possible. International courier company DHL and its heavy freight division, Danzas Air and Ocean, are shipping the panels at cost and are donating funds as are Swiss Re, one of the world's leading re-insurance companies, and Good Energies, Inc. Dasag Energy Engineering, Switzerland, co-ordinated the packaging of the project and Netpro Renewable Energy India, based in Bangalore, is helping to implement the program.