We should be opening a Public Distribution System to sell green energy products at fair prices

Just how closely do our political parties connect with the everyday difficulties of the citizen? Politics is, of course, the art of the possible, and those who are in it are keen to win elections. The entire purpose of the system is to serve the widest section of people in the best possible way.

When it comes to the use of electricity, though, there seems to be a major disconnect between the ideas of the political class, and the common man. The prolonged neglect of the power sector in Tamil Nadu – and of course many other services – has been affecting everyone. Except our politicians.

As the accompanying picture makes clear, whether the power comes from the electricity grid or is produced by a diesel generator, the ostentatious display involving hundreds of lights on an arterial road produces no sense of shame among politicians.

In this case, there were scores of tubelights, each normally consuming at least about 40 watts with an electronic choke and 70 watts with a conventional choke. Who pays for this profligacy?

Earlier in the day, the people in the neighbourhood off Anna Salai at Teynampet where these lights were found on Wednesday evening would have endured two-hours of load shedding in the normal course. This, when things have taken a turn for the worse in summer (see this report from Coimbatore).

Such is the uncertainty about the future of power in Chennai and most parts of Tamil Nadu, that the middle class has started investing in inverters and storage batteries as a basic facility needed for urban living. The suppliers of these pieces of equipment must be rejoicing at the lack of planning in this State, and the unsteady progress of the solar policy.

A PDS for solar

Any leader with the right set of priorities would have launched a ‘freebie’ scheme of distributing solar panels of at least 60 watts and a small batter-inverter assembly to a poor home, and also sold them at cost to others through a ‘Public Distribution System’ for green energy.

This kind of small panel could power at least a fan to combat the sweltering and humid summer of the Coromandel coast. Instead, we find people happily taking home government-sponsored grinders, table fans and so on, which are nice to possess but are of little use without electricity. No one grudges anyone these freebies, but people would have been better off with a small panel attached to their homes, harnessing the sun’s energy and powering their basic needs at no extra charge.

We must wait to see whether the Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency has any innovative ideas to offer at RENERGY 2013 to be held in Chennai between May 9 and 11. So far, the initiatives of TEDA have been woefully short on scale - it does not even seem to have a commercial outlet where you can buy a plain old solar box cooker in the city, leave alone solar panels. The TEDA website says the achievement in terms of solar cooking are exactly four in number, three of them by engineering colleges - Sathyabhama Engineering College, Chennai, National Engineering College, Kovilpatti, and SRM University, Kattankulathur, and one a corporate enterprise, L and T Plastics Machinery, Chennai.

In effect, if the website is accurate, not even one major government installation exists as on date, using sun power to generate steam and cook meals.

The data on solar photovoltaics is better, with 43 installations around the State, but adding up to a very small generating capacity. The maximum generation in any one institution is 100 KW as of today, going by this list.