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For over a thousand years, the Boluo Temple in the Chinese city of Dali has been home to monks who have relied on firewood for cooking and heating, collected water from snow-melt, and practiced their beliefs in the prayer hall near the mountain peak. However, in recent years, the temple has undergone a dramatic change with access to electricity for the first time, thanks to solar panels installed in its backyard.

The solar panels have brought much-needed convenience to the lives of the monks. Before the solar panels, the monks would have to hike for hours just to charge their mobile phones. Now, the temple has ten panels connected to a battery box, providing enough electricity to meet the daily needs of the head monk, junior monk Ming Jing, and their pet cat, Flower. With the solar panels, they can now use small electronic devices like an induction cooker, a water boiler, and a space heater. In the winter, the temperature can plunge below zero degrees Celsius in the mountain monastery, but the solar panels provide enough electricity to keep an electric blanket running for six to seven hours a night, making it more comfortable for the monks to bear the cold nights.

China has made it a priority to provide electricity to all its citizens, including the most rural villages, through its national development plans. For those living in remote locations where grid access is not possible, solar panels have become the only choice for electricity. China invested four billion yuan between 2013 and 2015 to build more than 670 standalone solar power plants and 350,000 home photovoltaic systems to provide electricity to 1.2 million people living off-grid in the early 2010s, according to the National Energy Administration.

Solar energy is also being used as part of a poverty-alleviation effort in China, where rooftop or small-scale ground installations are sponsored in poor areas to provide better energy access and cheaper electricity, reducing the use of polluting fuels like wood for daily activities such as cooking and heating. Villagers can also profit by selling electricity generated by rooftop solar panels back to grid companies. In 2019, more than 26 gigawatts of solar systems were built in poor areas across the country as part of this effort.

The solar poverty-alleviation programme has had a significant impact on residents of the targeted areas. A study published in 2020 found that the installations have raised disposal income per capita for beneficiaries by about 7 to 8 percent. The projects have also brought job opportunities and more stable power supply overall, according to Associate Professor Yueming “Lucy” Qiu of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

The use of solar panels for sustainable energy is a positive step towards reducing our carbon footprint and promoting sustainable practices. It shows that even in remote and rural areas, it is possible to make a switch to renewable energy sources to meet our needs without harming the environment. As individuals, we can also contribute to this effort by reducing our energy consumption, supporting renewable energy initiatives, and being more mindful of our daily habits.

Solar panels for sustainable energy in China’s Boluo Temple and the solar poverty-alleviation programme are examples of how we can take small steps towards sustainability. By using renewable energy sources, we can meet our energy needs without harming the environment and promote sustainability for future generations. As individuals, we can also make a difference by making small changes to our daily habits and supporting renewable energy initiatives.

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