Changemakers for the future

Anshu Bharadwaj, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Anshu Bharadwaj, CEO of the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation in India.

Clean energy can create jobs, livelihoods and drive our economy

India is a developing country with a huge development agenda, so my colleagues and I wanted to figure out how emerging science and technology solutions could positively impact people’s lives and livelihoods. In 2004, we established a think-tank in Bangalore, the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP). We built this institution up with a staff of over 100 young researchers. A lot of our work led to clean energy adoption, energy access and air quality

Last September, I joined Shakti, where my work in the field has continued but with a wider pool of institutions enabling change at a bigger scale. We focus on developing policy frameworks on energy access and energy for development. This requires understanding how government works and very patient engagement with the decision-makers. It takes months or even years before the research we’ve done is ratified as policy. But when it finally does, the sense of satisfaction is unbelievable – all our colleagues’ hard work has led to some tangible outcome. Out of every ten projects, if two or three eventually lead to outcomes, that’s a good success rate. And yes, we occasionally wonder: is all this effort worth it? But then we realise this is why we exist as an institution. It is well worth the trouble, tears and sweat.

Powering the people
India has about 1.3 billion people, and a large number live in rural areas. Over the last several years, the government has made very laudable efforts to connect everyone to the grid. Today’s official statistics say close to 100% of all villages are electrified except some very remote ones. But the story goes much deeper because a village may be electrified, but households may not be entirely electrified. And even those that are may not be getting power supply 24/7 .

Our work is to reach these areas to improve livelihoods, quality of life and quality of energy. For example, in Chhattisgarh, one of India’s fastest developing states, our focus was on how solar power could provide irrigation for farming. To run their pumps, farmers typically rely on grid-based electricity or diesel engines. Both are expensive, and diesel can lead to adverse environmental impacts. So we figured: if the area receives good solar supply, why can’t they use it to power their irrigation plants? We worked with a partner in Delhi to ensure farmers had access to good supply, and this state agency then developed a framework for the adoption of solar pumps

Unique global experiment
Developed countries relied heavily on cheap fossil fuels for their economic growth, and in so doing, achieved high levels of prosperity. In the 1980s and 1990s, China was building coal-powered plants rapidly, and now they’re a reasonably prosperous country. But what India is attempting is a unique global experiment – I use that word because we are blazing a trail no other country has tried before. We’re saying we will raise millions out of poverty and provide energy to millions of people, but from solar, wind and other sources – not coal and oil.

What gives us hope is that the cost of clean energy is coming down. Solar and wind have become very cheap. Solar is more economically viable than even coal, so we think the experiment will be successful. That’s both a dream for Shakti as an institution and my personal dream. If a country of 1.3 billion succeeds, it’s a beautiful model for countries in Africa and Latin America to follow. It would show you don’t need coal or oil to power economic growth.

Hopes for the future
If I had 10 minutes at COP 26, I would urge leaders to work out a model where developed countries take their fair share of responsibility ensuring the rest of the world gets access to technology and finance, and to make sure other countries develop a pathway to less or zero carbon.

This is the decade of action. Setting aside the developed-versus-developing debate, the reality is we have to act on climate. The policy decisions we take today will have far-reaching consequences for how humanity survive. In India, the average person on the street is sensitive to climate change, understanding that it is here and it is real. There is growing understanding that it is a decisive moment for us.

This story was based on an interview with Anshu in March.

Anshu Bharadwaj is the CEO of the Shakti Foundation. Prior to this, he was a member of the Indian Administrative Services and also served as executive director of the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP). He holds a PhD in engineering and public policy and a Bachelor of technology in mechanical engineering.

Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation is a non-profit philanthropic organisation focused on India’s clean energy and environmental sectors. In partnership with the IKEA Foundation, Shakti works to support climate policies in India that increase access to renewable energy and enable the transition to a low-carbon economy.

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