100% rural electrification no measure of power connectivity; ailing discoms, unreliable supply larger problem, says survey
The Narendra Modi government claims that it has nearly completed its goal to electrify 100 percent rural households, under its flagship programme Saubhagya Yojna. However, a survey on rural electrification in India found that merely having an electric connection doesn't solve the problems of rural consumers.
The survey report based on customer behaviour and demand prepared by Smart Power India (SPI), a subsidiary of Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP) provided fresh insights into the dynamics and fast-changing rural electricity market in India. The survey found that mere access to the grid electricity doesn't ensure that rural customers can actually use electricity. High dependence on diesel generators and rural household consumption remaining much lower than national residential consumption are all telltale signs.
Highlighting the findings of the report, Sidhartha Vermani, senior director, SPI said, “Electricity access, measured by availability of grid infrastructure stands high across villages. However, the adoption of electric connection has not improved everywhere and across different customer segments. Rural microenterprises largely remain unconnected from the grid and rely upon diesel generators amongst many other sources. Having an electric connection doesn't guarantee the energy's reliable supply, billing and service redress. Resultantly, village electricity consumption remains low and only about half of the national average for residential consumption."
The report that was launched during ‘World Sustainable Development Summit’ on Wednesday in New Delhi, also tried to break the perception that rural consumers get cheaper electricity, and often were not ready to pay for the electricity usage.
While rural households are economically disadvantaged, concerns about affordability are a manifestation of the gaps in electricity meter coverage and billing efficiency, due to which customers have to bear higher electricity bills. The report emphasised on making grid-electricity attractive for rural customers on one hand, and on the other, the distribution companies (Discoms) need to ensure universal meter coverage and timely billing. This can ease concerns about the affordability of grid-electricity and ensure sustained electricity use for customers with limited needs and capacity to pay.
"If rural consumers are paying their telecom bills, their loans, etc, why are they blamed for not paying electricity bills? The problem lies elsewhere, like in the billing period — say handing over four months’ bill in one go, incorrect bills, poor supply of electricity, etc. Discoms are facing these problems. In Odisha, there had been more than 90% collection as they have put the system in order," said Jaideep Mukherji, CEO, SPI, during a panel discussion, after the launch of the report. "This report will help us arrive at a sustainable and scalable framework that addresses quality of access and service to the rural customers," he added.
The report based on surveys of over 10,000 rural households and 2,000 rural enterprises across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan, also shows electricity demand in villages might increase with reliable supply.
During the discussion, the issue also emerged on why India being a power-surplus state, faced power cuts in several states.
"Distribution is state governments' responsibility. Power cuts are due to local issues like poor maintenance, shortfall in supply, financial status of Discoms, etc. The Centre has taken up the issue with state governments and a document has been signed on providing 24X7 electricity supply,” remarked KK Mishra, director (Renewable Energy), Ministry of Power.
NITI Aayog’s additional secretary, RP Gupta emphasised on the need of political will to curb power theft. "In Gujarat, we’ve seen how reliable and quality power supply brought total transformation in the state and people rewarded the government by electing it to power for consecutive terms. Cost of energy is very important for households. But the next step is reliable supply,” he added.
Areas of concern
- Gap in electricity meter coverage and billing efficiency, because of which customers have to bear inflated electricity bills.
- Erratic supply and long duration of power cuts can also deter potential customers from adopting electric grid-connections
- Little emphasis on service
Possible solution emerged during the session
While summing up the session, the panellists suggested possible solutions that could help rural consumers in getting quality and affordable electricity.
- To improve rural consumers’ experience.
- Get the pricing right, which is possible with political will and technological intervention.
- Need for capacity building till the last mile.
- Technological solutions to ease life and cater to future requirements.
- Performance of Discoms needs to be measured. There should be a system of rewards and penalty.
- Power ministry should coordinate with other ministries and departments for the use of solar power based appliances and create a market for AC and DC hybrid-based appliances.
- As the government has created infrastructure, generation and distribution of power, the focus should now be on service to consumers.
Ajay Mathur, director general, TERI pointed out, “Consumers are ready to pay higher amount for reliable supply. Communities should be provided with options like solar energy, which can be cheaper. Integrating micro grids with universal electrification is important.”
Emphasising on solar power and solar-based equipment, Mohua Mukherjee, programme ambassador, International Solar Alliance suggested that distributors of solar products needed grant money and government’s support to create market.
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