24×7 power is about “access”, not “electrification

TOPIC : by Jaideep Mukherji, CEO, Smart Power India.

India currently reports 99.4% electrification, yet there are 304 million people who still lack access to electricity according to the recent draft of the National Energy Policy (NEP) issued by the government’s policy thinktank NITI Aayog.

How does one resolve this paradox?

In most countries, electrification means not only being connected to the grid but also providing homes and businesses sufficient electricity access to meet their daily needs. However, in India, the definition of electrification in rural areas, where most of the unelectrified population lives, has been detached from the actual supply of electricity to households.

A village is deemed electrified even if only 10 percent of homes and a few rural institutions are connected.

It is heartening that the draft NEP recognizes “a need to redefine the concept of ‘Electrification’… with the village being deemed completely electrified if and only if ALL households of a village have an electricity connection, which witnesses reliable supply of electricity at least for a set number of hours.” The hope is that the “set hours” will cover daily needs.

Rice Hullers of Pasanga

TOPIC : Rice hulled by women now retailed across outlets in two states – Jharkhand and West Bengal

When Ghasni Devi and her four neighbours of Pasanga village in Gumla, Jharkhand began a rice hulling self-help group, they did not expect their hulled rice to reach the shelves of supermarkets.

With the help of Smart Power India and MLINDA, the energy service company (ESCO) working to improve energy access in Gumla, the hulled rice produced in Gumla is now available across two premium stores – one in West Bengal and the other in Ranchi, Jharkhand. There are currently 5 women self-help groups producing good quality hulled rice using the locally grown produce.

The Arambagh Food Mart, a renowned departmental chain across West Bengal has already bought 1150 kgs of hulled rice from the rice hullers of Gumla.

‘Field and Forest’, a signature store which specializes in selling natural and organic products, have also begun stocking hulled rice, since it is organically grown and has little to no pesticide content in it.

MLINDA and SPI are now working on exploring new market linkages in big retail stores such as Spencer, More and Reliance Fresh in West Bengal and Bihar.

Watch this video testimonial of women from Pasanga on how improved electricity access helped them to use rice hullers to process their produce and earn better prices for their produce.

Why does Energy Access matter?24×7 power is about “access”, not “electrification”

TOPIC : Energy Access matter

India currently reports 99.4% electrification, yet there are 304 million people who still lack access to electricity according to the recent draft of the National Energy Policy (NEP) issued by the government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog.
 

In most countries, electrification means not only being connected to the grid, but also providing homes and businesses sufficient electricity access to meet their daily needs. However, in India the definition of electrification in rural areas, where most of the unelectrified population lives, has been detached from the actual supply of electricity to households. A village is deemed electrified even if only 10 percent of homes and a few rural institutions are connected.
 

About 237 million people in India, most of them in rural areas, live without reliable electricity. Without electricity, people’s livelihood options are limited, access to basic services is restricted, and quality of life is adversely affected.
 

23% of India’s population are still thirsting for electricity and millions more who are receiving only poor and unreliable access. Extending wires and poles and adding generation capacity will not significantly impact the access problem. New ideas are needed to make a breakthrough. New models of electricity distribution are emerging. In nearly 110 villages across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand states, more than 40,000 people have access to reliable grid-quality electricity from privately operated renewable energy mini-grids supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power India program. The impact on life and livelihood is tangible.

Under the Smart Power model, solar power plants built and run by the energy service companies (ESCOs) have higher capacities, not just for lighting homes and shops, but also for serving productive loads like micro-enterprises. Small businesses such as Atta Chakki, computer shops, welding operators, and irrigation pumps can be served at the same time as the telecom towers that are now present in thousands of off-grid villages.

Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) offers a complementary model to the delivery of rural electricity using decentralized mini-grids based on renewable energy sources. The initiative seeks to accelerate rural development and, in turn, improve the lives of the poor and marginalized. Through its subsidiary, Smart Power India, The Rockefeller Foundation has supported seven energy companies to expand electricity service in rural villages across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, India. Over the past two years, the initiative has brought power to over 40,000 people, most of whom are poor and from socially excluded groups.

About 55 percent of SPRD household customers are using LED light bulbs for the first time. Among micro-enterprise customers, the availability of electricity has increased the number, type, and scale of businesses, resulting in measurable gains.

The economic growth has been spurred by the mechanization, expansion, and creation of new businesses that required sufficient and reliable electricity previously unavailable to the villagers. Nearly 11 percent of SPRD-connected micro-enterprises have expanded their businesses by adding refrigerators, or other electrical devices, and about 7 percent of micro-enterprises are new – having emerged as a result of available energy. On average, SPRD micro-enterprise clients saw monthly revenues increase by 12 percent.

Equally promising are the social impacts of the electricity, which include improved health, safety, and study conditions, as well as increased mobility after dark. Women, in particular, report an improved sense of safety from better nighttime lighting both in the home and on the street. This is especially meaningful in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have among the highest rates of violence against women in India.

Rural Energy Access Programs: contrasting private and public values (Part I)

TOPIC : Rural Energy Access

In 2017, India still has a significant energy access problem. While official estimates indicate India is over 97% electrified, over 250 million Indians still lack access to reliable electricity. The discrepancy is explained by the definition of village electrification as specified by the Government of India, by which a “village is considered to be electrified if basic power infrastructure is provided in the inhabited locality as well as associated dalit bastis; electricity is provided to public spaces like schools, panchayat offices, health centres, dispensaries, community centres, etc.; the number of households electrified are at least 10% of the total number of households in the village. We can all agree that this definition is very limited, and in fact, conversations are ongoing to change the definition.

But beyond definitions, the lack of access is a result of low paying capacities on the consumer end, and uncertain financially viability of catering to areas with low and fluctuating demands and dispersed populations on the supplier side. With 2014-24 being declared as the Decade for Sustainable Energy for All, a number of international and local actors have begun to participate in the mission to enhance energy access in India and several other developing nations. There is wide variety in the programmatic structure and sources of financing that interventions have developed – from NGO drivengrant funded projects and programs; to private sector ledsale of solar home systems, batteries, and lanterns; to the development of micro-finance models for the purchase of power generating devices.

While there has been some success in the dissemination of small scale systems such as lanterns, home lighting systems, DC micro-grids, and so based on different sources of power, there are few examples of financially viable community or village scale systems. Some successful initiatives have benefitted from initial grant support which has aided in subsidising the high capital costs involved for installation. Subsequently, these companies have claimed a move to financial models that are independent of grant support. But without publicly available data, it is not possible to ascertain whether rural electrification projects operating on commercial or utility models are financially viable. Financial viability is of considerable importance with the increasing emphasis on private sector involvement and PPP modes of service delivery. If viability is uncertain, will the private sector really invest or partner on such projects? And secondly, a point which we come back to later, do we lose out on the bigger picture by focusing so narrowly on financially viability as key our indicator of “success”? How else can viability be measured?

Lookout for the part II of this blog for more details.

Read more stories about our work on the ground in Smart Power Connect