Picture of aerial view of well-lit city at night.

India is reinventing its energy strategy—and the climate may depend on it

Can the nation meet the demands of a booming middle class while curbing carbon emissions? The planet's future will hinge on the answer.

An illuminated Mumbai sprawls toward the horizon in this view from India’s tallest residential building, a 76-story luxury tower. The vibrant city reflects the ambitions of the growing middle class, which is placing more demands on the country’s electrical grid.

On a warm and humid morning in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh last September, Chetan Singh Solanki stepped off a bus he’d been living in for the past 10 months and walked into a high school auditorium in the small town of Raisen, where 200 students, teachers, and officials had gathered to hear him speak.

A solar energy professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai, Solanki is a slender man in his mid-40s with a boyish appearance and a quick smile that are assets for the mission he’s on. In late 2020 he took a leave to make an 11-year road trip around India to inspire action to fight climate change. Solanki’s vehicle is a mobile demonstration of the utility of renewable energy: Solar panels generate enough electricity to run the lights, fans, computers, stove, and television on board. After being garlanded and welcomed on the stage, Solanki made an unusual request.

“I see 15 ceiling fans in this room. It’s the middle of the day, there’s so much sunlight outside, yet we have so many lights on in here,” he said. “Do we really need all of these fans and lights? Let’s turn some of them off and see if we’ll be OK with it.”

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