Krishnan Pallassana: The key to solving universal energy access in India is off-grid renewables

Reading time: 4 minutes
18 August 2015

Tomorrow The Climate Group hosts the first-ever India Off-Grid Energy Summit in New Delhi. Krishnan Pallassana, India Director, The Climate Group, writes about the importance of connecting rural communities with decentralized renewable energy in India – and how the gathered experts at the Summit tomorrow can accelerate this burgeoning market.

Climate change will define the political economies of tomorrow.

And as results from our Bijli - Clean Energy for All project have shown, the decentralized renewable energy sector provides a unique and compelling business opportunity for India's off-grid communities to thrive and flourish in this emerging low carbon, global economy.

Yet despite knowing electricity is a prerequisite to meet the basic needs and economic development of any country, only 56% of India’s population has access at the national level and just 44% do in rural areas. This means more than 400 million people in rural India have no access to electricity.

This situation is only going to get worse as energy demand doubles by 2030 with India’s estimated economic growth.

A primary reason for poor electrification is the limited reach of the national power grid. But the remote locations and low incomes of the rural population make grid extension uneconomical.

New energy

Traditionally, off-grid communities have relied on diesel generation and kerosene lighting. Both are expensive and polluting, with one of many problems being the fact kerosene fumes trigger chronic illnesses, particularly for children.

So for India’s whole population to move along the social and economic ladder their energy requirements must be addressed urgently.

And off-grid renewable energy is one of the most dependable solutions: it is more reliable. It is cheaper. It is cleaner.

Thankfully the country’s decentralized renewable energy (DRE) market is ripe for expansion.

In fact, DRE businesses already serve close to 100,000 households according to our research, with an expected rapid growth of 60-70% annually to bring that total to around 900,000 by 2018.

By the same year, India’s DRE market is estimated to be worth at least US$150 million.

For renewable energy to really gain momentum in India though, we must overcome barriers including high capital costs, poor subsidy disbursal, minimal guarantee of returns, and operation and maintenance challenges.

So what is the government doing?

While it has extended the national electricity grid, this policy failed to address the real needs of poorer communities as fossil-fuel based grid electricity is still too expensive for them.

Fortunately however, the Government of India has also made serious efforts to introduce DRE projects that utilize wind energy, hydro power and hybrid systems, to meet energy requirements of rural areas.

A Government target of 100 GW solar power by 2022 under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, also includes an ambitious 20 GW from off-grid systems such as solar home lighting systems, solar lanterns, micro-grids and pumps.

Jobs and growth

By working together with the public sector, the private sector plays an important role in deploying innovative financing mechanisms to expand decentralized renewable energy solutions to underserved communities.

Scaling up renewable off-grid energy would not only create millions of jobs, but also sustain India’s positive economic growth and help lift its massive population out of poverty.

Potential growth in off-grid solar power and decentralized renewable energy offers a ray of hope to the 40% of India's 1.2 billion population who lack access to energy.

Together at the first-ever India Off-Grid Energy Summit tomorrow, we will bring together the people who can make this hope a reality.

From practitioners to investors and funders, we will discuss how to work within the larger renewable energy framework of the Government of India to deliver a collective roadmap to connect clean energy in India.

For all.




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