india solar energy himalayasNeil Chatterjee/REUTERSA solar panel sits on the roof of Lamayuru Monastery in India's Buddhist-dominated Laddakh region on May 2, 2006.

Perched high atop a plateau in the Himalayas, the village of Leh in the Indian region of Ladakh is tough to get to.

The region is too remote to connect to the country's central electrical grid, and delivering coal or diesel energy would be a difficult task.

So the Indian government has decided that Leh — and about 25,000 villages like it throughout the country — are never going to be connected to the central grid.

Instead, the government is going to electrify these rural villages with renewable energies like solar, hydropower, and biomass.

People in many developing countries had mobile phones before they ever had a landline; similarly, these Indian villages could "leapfrog" fossil fuels and go straight to renewables, Kartikeya Singh, a doctoral candidate at Tufts University, told Tech Insider. He's researched India's solar energy revolution for nearly a decade.

"Those people will probably never see coal-fired electricity to their homes," Singh said. "For those 25,000 villages, the solution that the government has is for them to use decentralized, renewable energy. That's a lot of people."

india solar renewables energyAdnan Abidi/REUTERSA woman stands in front of an illuminated house powered by solar energy in the Meerwada village in Madhya Pradesh on June 18, 2012. Life in the remote Indian village used to grind to a standstill as darkness descended — until solar power arrived in 2011.

The government reported in 2013 that over 10,000 villages have been electrified since the program began in the early 2000s.

But the government isn't the only one driving solar energy adoption. About 300 million Indians still aren't connected to the central grid.

Singh has observed firsthand how people are taking power into their own hands by buying solar lanterns, solar panels, microgrids, solar irrigation systems, and more.

india solar clinicCourtesy of Kartikeya Singh This pharmacy and clinic in the Howrah District of West Bengal are powered by solar panels.

India's total renewable energy capacity just reached 39.5 Gigawatts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced March 4. The country is well on its way to Modi's goal of 175 Gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022. And by 2030, the goal is to get 40% of India's total energy from renewables.

For villages like Leh that have never had access to formal electricity, the renewable revolution can't come soon enough.

Villages in India aren't the only places that could totally skip the use of energy sources that strain resources and the environment, however. A renewables-first revolution could potentially happen in any place that isn't connected to a centralized grid, or that doesn't use fossil fuels like coal today.

"There are definitely communities in parts of the world that have not yet and may never need to be powered by coal or fossil fuels," Singh said. "That's for sure."

 

Correction: This post has been updated to accurately reflect India’s renewable energy capacity today and its goal for the future. The current capacity is 39.5 Gigawatts, not 39.5 Megawatts, and the goal for 2022 is 175 Gigawatts, not 175 Megawatts.