Sunday, September 14, 2014

Can solar power save South Asia?

Today, roughly one-third of Indians rely on kerosene, dung or wood for most energy needs. Next door in Pakistan, it's worse — roughly 40 percent of its 180 million people have no electricity. The financial and physical state of the electrical grids is worse than decrepit. Energy theft is routine in both countries, creating mounting piles of utility debt that make it hard to keep the lights on, let alone improve or expand power lines.

At the end of 2012, Pakistani's energy-industry debt topped $9 billion, according to The Economist. "It's one unholy mess," says Michael Kugelman, an expert on South Asia energy issues at the Wilson Center think tank in D.C.

Powering up solar, though, raises its own set of issues, including creating incentives for investment in an industry with high upfront costs and low initial returns. "It is very much a long-term investment and not something that can address the immediate energy crisis in Pakistan or the insatiable energy thirst in India," Kugelman says. The greatest hope for capitalizing on solar energy's potential lies with innovative small-scale projects that can connect people to electricity for the very first time, like EcoEnergyFinance.

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