JAN 2020  
Green Challenges
Rural Electrification in India: The Imminent Challenges

Dark Room’-the quintessential children’s game at every sleepover. It’s a curious past-time, characterized by frantic whispering and the sound of rushing feet as children worm themselves into the most inconspicuous spaces in the hope of not being found. The seeker enters a room plunged into darkness and with the curtains drawn, the only light is that which seeps in through the choked slit at the bottom of the door. There is a palpable tension in the air, a pulse waiting to be found, as the seeker hunts the hidden. The game continues until the seeker either finds everyone or gives up the attempt. At this point, the light is turned back on and everyone gets ready for the next round.

It is interesting to see how disposable light is to these children. It comes in such abundance that darkness is merely a trifle to be played with. Something so temporary, that even at night, it has no lasting power. After all, life continues for them, with only the flick of a switch. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury to turn their lights back on.

The World Bank estimates that more than 200 million people still lack access to electricity in India (Source: The World Bank Databank). Indeed, every night, residents of almost 18,000 villages in India find themselves unwilling participants in a never ending game of ‘Dark Room’. With uncertain moonlight as the only source of illumination, millions of lives come to a standstill, lying in wait for the sun to rise the following morning.

Even with Government of India’s constant efforts for 100 per cent village electrification, clearly, there is something amiss.

Why This Disparity?

The government deems a village, electrified, if power cables from the centralized grid reach a transformer within the village and power 10 per cent of the houses, buildings, and other public places. Under this definition of ‘electrification’, the Government of India’s rural electrification initiative ‘Saubhagya’ reports that 99.93 per cent of India’s villages have been electrified. There is, however, a significant difference between having a village merely connected to power and having it supplied with power. Connection is simply a physical act, a check-mark on a page soon forgotten. Provision of supply, on the other hand, is a long-standing effort and necessitates the provision of clean and affordable power to all or almost all households in a village, at a steady rate, so as to be available as and when needed with minimal interference via long power-cuts.

Whilst such efforts towards increasing the equity of electricity access for the Indian population have increased considerably over the past three years, affordability and provision via sustainable sources are still illusory goals. One reason for this are the flawed applications of tariffs. Though DISCOMs and other power suppliers do provide concessions in electricity tariffs to individuals who have been recognized as ‘below-poverty-line’, they mandate the presentation of formal identification that states the same. The problem with this is that those living in poverty-stricken conditions rarely have the required documents, leading to regular electricity tariffs being imposed on vulnerable households.

Small agriculture cooperatives, public schools, anganwadi shelters, and communal facilities usually do not have the finances to support a metered connection with regular tariffs. Recognizing the need to ensure adequate energy supply instead of connections should be placed at the vanguard for rural electrification efforts. As we progress towards connecting India’s millions to the grid, organizations and institutions should also place emphasis on the need for uniform concessions on the basis of demographic information in place of formal identification.

Increased distribution is, however, only the first part of the picture. It may be that in successfully electrifying rural India, we are replacing one problem with another.

An Energy-Consuming Nation

In 2017, total generation reached 1600 TWh, making India the third largest producer of energy in the world. Sixteen  per cent of this was generated by renewables, while coal-fired plants accounted for 74 per cent of the total energy generated (Source: International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2018). This generation is steadily rising, and according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2018, India’s energy demand is expected to more than double by 2040.

Conventionally, the factors that are thought to contribute most to this surge in demand are rapid industrialization and population growth. However, an additional and immediate factor, often overlooked, is glaring at us right in the face: rural electrification.

With the creation of a newly empowered and electrified population segment-one that will gradually realize the benefits of increased education and higher incomes-an immediate demand for electricity will be created. This demand will come in two phases. The first will be the demand due to preliminary connection. The second phase will be driven by the inevitable adoption of electrical appliances and services by the electrified rural population, at an exponential rate. This will put an incredible load on our national grid and our environment, both of which are unsuited to disruption of this kind.

Therefore, schemes like Saubhagya should also account for the ramifications of their own success. In response to the growing energy demands and its ecological impact, a number of organizations including DISCOMs have changed their outlook towards conventional coal-based methods of energy production and are transitioning towards sustainable alternatives such as solar-PV and wind as well as other non-conventional hybrid renewable energy systems.

The Government of India has also established a number of schemes, fostering a plethora of partnerships with entrepreneurs, distribution companies, and consumers in order to reach a renewable-coal equilibrium of sorts. However, even if we operate on the assumptions that the share of renewables will increase at a rate that will match that of the incoming rise in demand, and that breakthrough innovations in technology will be forthcoming, time will be needed to update the national grid and make provisions for the integration of renewable assets into it. What’s more, in urban and peri-urban areas on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, the aging power grids are currently incapable of absorbing population growth and are
set to face chronic blackouts in the coming decade.

There is no certainty of being able to overcome these obstacles-however, with the sun already beaming down more energy in an hour than the world uses in a year and wind energy pegged as being able to meet a third of the global energy demand by 2040 (Source: International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2018), there is hope on the horizon. Whether emerging economies such as India will be able to ensure adequate provisions for
the adoption of the same remains
to be seen.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this article are their own and do not necessarily reflect TERI’s views.

Mr Dhruv Suri is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering at the Manipal Institute of Technology, India. His research on renewable energy systems, wind energy in particular, is motivated by India’s impetus towards sustainable energy production and energy equity. Mr Kaustav Sood is currently interning with the UN environment programme office.  He is a recent graduate from the department of History at Ashoka University. He is a prolific writer, having written for college and independent publications.

© TERI 2020

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in India’s CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that “CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.”

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to [email protected]

Matt Carr
+44 (0) 20 7375 7248
[email protected]