Jarnail Singh: Lighting the way toward greener horizons in India
- 21 January 2016
Jarnail Singh, India Program Manager, The Climate Group blogs about the achievements as well as the crucial future direction of our Bijli - Clean Energy for All project, which is helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously enhance the lives of rural villagers in India.
For the past three years, The Climate Group’s Bijli – Clean Energy for All has been working to connect rural Indian communities with clean energy.
Funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the project has now connected thousands of households in villages across four states of rural India: Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkhand. In total, we have reached an estimated 65,000 people.
Bijli’s longer term aim is to reach even more people by unlocking financial barriers and facilitating universal energy access in India.
Back in 2013 our initial pilot projects were largely focused on primary lighting and mobile charging, and more productive uses of energy including water pumping and telecom towers.
Since then, one of the most successful ways we have convened leadership around the issue of universal access, is by rallying support for the inclusion of clean energy access at national and global flagship events such as the India Off-Grid Energy Summit and Climate Week NYC.
The Off-Grid Summit brought together practitioners, renewable energy experts, government leaders and stakeholders under one roof to work on building a sustainable long-term plan for energy access.
But while the importance of access to ‘life-line’ energy such as lighting and mobile charging cannot be discounted, Indian households still need reliable clean electricity if the economy is to achieve sustainable growth.
To facilitate this level of energy access, The Climate Group will continue to engage with partners and like-minded organizations to develop a robust market ecosystem in India.
A multi-dimensional approach is imperative to connect millions of rural households and enterprises to clean and productive energy. Our work will likely include the following:
- Innovative business models
Despite the acute energy crisis, there have not yet been many examples of local level governments or panchayats (village level public institutions), exploring the possibilities of energy farms or community-driven projects to generate electricity. This is because the traditional remit of these networks has been managing drinking water, roads and community buildings, with electricity considered as being in the domain of the state or national governments.
To boost entrepreneurial activity and private sector investment in renewable off-grid energy, an approach must be carefully integrated into state politics by assessing the market, identifying business models with the greatest potential to achieve scale, and encouraging investments that will be catalytic for the sector.
It is important that sound business framework is backed by empirical evidence to develop viable public-private-partnership models. Not only financial and technological feasibility, but also environmental and social aspects must be accounted for. Strong support and finance for the establishment of grid ready, smart and hybrid decentralized power generation and distribution entities could also influence the state and central governments too.
- Capacity building for project development
Last year during the Off-Grid Summit, The Climate Group partnered with eminent organizations to launch a pilot workshop about building the capacity of entrepreneurs to raise private finance. This was a significant step toward developing a program of individualized consultancy and mentoring training that will strengthen and improve enterprises’ ability to deliver project pipelines that are both viable and scalable. Emphasis should be given to convening peer-to-peer networking and learning opportunities with cross-sector forums that also offer a chance to engage directly with regional and national governments, as well as financial institutions and potential investors.
- Enterprise financing
The sector also needs a specialized financial institution to address immediate debt financing needs of enterprises, in order to scale up rural energy access by catalyzing commercial financing. The Climate Group is working to enable flexible and catalytic financing for distributed renewable energy sectors in India to bridge the gap between them and mainstream financial institutions.
While these activities represent landmark steps in driving clean energy access in India, The Climate Group acknowledges that there are other elements of this ecosystem which are also instrumental in the scaling up process.
With this visionary outlook, we welcome partnerships and collaborators to help us work toward building collective strength in the clean energy sector in the coming years, in India and beyond.
By Jarnail Singh