As part of his vision to make 24 hours electricity to be made available to everyone in India, our Prime Minister wants all the remaining 18000 villages to be electrified in 1000 days. This is a highly laudable initiative, and is surely achievable, if it is executed in accordance with a sensible plan. The numbers stack up like this: around 12000 villages remain to be powered, of which, roughly 8000 will be connected to the grid, and others will be electrified in off-grid mode. The timeline for completion has been advanced to FY 17, and a significant number of these villages, so far, suffering from ´poverty of electricity´, lie in the states of Odisha, Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand. Which brings us to the strong connect between access to energy and Human Development.
In one of our earlier issues, while discussing Paris COP 21, we said in these columns, ´à we are sobered by the fact that 1.3 billion people in our global community are without access to electricity in this twenty first century, and of these, 300 million reside in India. Yes, there have been positive changes over the years, and humanity has decidedly made progress, but this abject situation in the context of sweeping modernity all around us, this stark contrast between development and lack of it, makes for a profoundly disturbing statement´. A 2005 study (By Chi Seng Leung and Peter Meisen) conducted with data of 40 countries, has statistically shown a strong correlation between HDI and per capita power consumption. In fact, all the three elements on which HDI is computed, viz., Life expectancy, Education and GDP per capita, demonstrated discernible patterns of inter-dependence with growth of electricity consumption. Although there have been some studies questioning if such correlation can mean causative relationship (i.e., does poverty of power cause lack of development, or vice versa), the bottom line is that there can be no arguments against prioritising on´access to electricity for all´. So, we are on track here, and therefore we fully support this ´better late than never´ kind of initiative, and wish this project Godspeed.
However, the last mile is always very tough; in this case, the challenges come in the shape of terrain, accessibility, consumer density, sustainability/maintainability, etc., not the least of which is finances. About these challenges, the Economist had written in 2010, that 85 per cent of the people without electricity live in rural areas, and extending energy grids into these areas is expensive: the United Nations estimates that an average of $35 billion-40 billion a year needs to be invested until 2030 so everyone on the planet can cook, heat and light their premises, and have energy for productive uses such as schooling. On current trends, however, the number of ´energy poor´ people will barely budge, and 16 per cent of the world´s population will still have no electricity by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. It is in this context that ´bottom up solar cooperative models´, can help overcome the obstacles, somewhat similar to the way in which mobile/ cellular telephony brought about a communication revolution in the developing world, without waiting for the traditional telephony infrastructure to spread. Village cooperative based off-grid micro-solar power solutions can do wonders in letting our remote villages evolve energy solutions from within, rather than waiting for the grid. What is needed is improvements in power storage systems and cooperative financial business models. This is already happening.
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Sumit Banerjee Chairman, Editorial Advisory Board