We took the train from Amsterdam to Berlin earlier this month. While the change of staff from the friendly Dutch to the slightly brusque German crew is noticeable, the scenery outside isn’t immediately very different. It takes a while for the oh-so-flat Dutch scenery to transform into the rolling countryside around the Rhine. But Udai’s observation was on the ball when he started pointing out the growing number of houses with solar panels on the roofs. Soon he was showing us homes and barns and storage sheds with their entire roofs covered in solar panels!
I made a mental note that day (12th June) to look up the solar energy achievements of Germany but it slipped my mind. However, I read today that at about the same time as we were excitedly pointing out all those solar panels to each other and telling Aadyaa what solar was all about, Germany had set three national records related to solar energy! Over 50% of the country’s energy needs are now met by solar. Mind blowing indeed, especially for a nation not abundant in sunshine. Can we in India imagine the potential here?
Probing deeper, I gather that Germany’s solar capacity is largely installed on residential and commercial rooftops rather than at industrial facilities. However, from a policy perspective, I understand that the nation’s heavy subsidization of solar and wind energy while cutting back on nuclear energy production has meant both extremely high power tariffs and increased carbon emissions owing to more usage of coal and gas. Everything has a flip side, I suppose!
Speaking to a group of journalists from across the country can be an interesting experience. For me, it was fun being on the other side. For all the years we ran our media services company (Nupur and me), we were the ones being educated and briefed. I was used to having my antennae out and asking questions that might sound daft to an expert panel. Today, as I fielded queries about the obvious and popular issues, I knew very well that there is a value in stating and restating well known facts, clarifying positions and so on in the interests of hopefully more informed and mature writing and more accurate dissemination of information about the building sector.
Every sector has its typical face offs and actors. In construction, builders crib about corruption, long and tedious approval processes and the like. They hardly ever profile positive initiatives on public platforms, which gies to show what their worth is (only a handful of developers can stand stall and talk about their work). Activists take up cudgels against the lack of ethics and malpractices of developers. Not for profits and professionals struggle with issues on and off the ground, but put up a more positive attitude. Everyone, media included, cribs about the government. So too at today’s event, which was a media briefing organised by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a lot was said around subjects like environmental clearances, green building design and planning, energy efficiency and sustainability; yet, the people in the room were divided about which sides of certain issues they stood on and united in their opinion of the inadequacy of government action. As a moderator put it, “We are experiencing a collapse of governance (politics is controlled by industrial lobbies)….and the media is often our first line of defence.” He cited examples of honest officials resorting to leaking controversial information to the media when they find evidence of an influential (and politically connected) industrialist being involved in something grossly illegal and know an official report will fall on deaf ears.
Another interesting theme in the context of energy and environment was the expressed need for urban Indians to reexamine our lifestyles. Yes we will consume more as we become prosperous, but unless we exert some control, we could be spinning into a disaster, a self created crisis of resource deficiency. I wonder what the mainstream media made of that thought. Interestingly, the Left aligned journos who kept asking for government subsidies for everything from housing to five star rated appliances had no comments to offer on equality of resource distribution!
That brings me to ratings. The BEE enforced appliance labelling has been one if the mode successful exercises in India of creating a system that incentivises consumers to use energy efficient products. The ratings were voluntary and in a few years of observation, it is clear that Indian consumers value them. The labelling is now mandatory for some appliances and more will join that list as the market acceptance grows. Kudos to all those in the field who have worked hard at making a success of this. These star ratings began at a time when the Indian market was considered terribly price sensitive. No one knew if anyone would value a more efficient product. Aggressive consumer education had its payoff.
To those of us in the affordable housing space, it is heartening to review the star rating experience. However, the challenges at our end are many, not the least educating informal sector consumers who are not well educated and spread across the country about the benefits of the ratings. We are heavily dependent on government incentives that might succeed in luring developers into the rating game for affordable housing.
The weather has been so surprisingly nice these past few days in Gurgaon; that the air conditioners we hastily serviced and started up have fallen silent again. I always wondered why North Europeans constantly talk about the weather. Not just the English, but the Dutch and the Germans and the Swedish that I have had occasion to know place weather at the center of their social conversation and are quick to complain about the cold and the rain.
Increasingly I am noticing that we in India have started doing so as well. It’s a fallout perhaps of a change in prosperity where we start spending more time in air conditioned environments and the real weather outside comes as a surprise, at times an awfully rude one, when we step outside.
The other perspective I often think about is that it is those who suffer from lack of sunshine that complain the most. My yoga teacher was explaining to us the benefits of sun gazing during dawn and sunset. She highlighted the restorative, energising properties of sunlight and the powers of concentration and focus we can derive from meditating while looking at the sun at first or last light. Sunlight creates feelings of positivity and it wasn’t for nothing that the sun occupies a significant positions in many ancient religions, in Hinduism and in ancient Egypt for instance.
We in India complain about the summer heat all the time. We should be thankful that we see nearly twelve months of beautiful sunshine. That is why we are the happiest, most boisterous, loud and crazy people on earth! So when the weather changes to the fierce unforgiving heat, as it must, I will try and remember that this sun is a source of much if the positivity in my life!