As India revives US$8.7 billion clean energy grid upgrade, off-grid projects also on rise

Clare Saxon Ghauri
16 August 2013

NEW DELHI: As India announces a revived US$7.9 billion investment in its unreliable electric grid to prepare for planned renewables growth, the country is also experiencing a rise in off-grid projects aiming to provide an estimated 400 million rural Indian people with clean energy access.

Grid upgrade

Plans to prepare India's national grid for more wind and solar energy with US$7.9 billion worth of upgrades are now moving forward, according to Ratan P. Watal, Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, who announced the news at the National Consultation of Stakeholders regarding Development of Offshore Wind Energy in India, in New Delhi this week.

The new grid will be built over seven Indian states in the next five to six years, with funding support from German development bank, KfW Group. The grid will also receive support from the World Bank, state governments, the Asian Development Bank and India’s National Electricity Fund.

Clean energy for India

During the announcement, the Ministry Secretary also shared the success of India’s onshore wind market, which has attracted US$16.5 billion investment in 2012 and has an estimated capacity of 191 gigawatts by 2030. Ratan P. Watal also announced that the National Offshore Wind Energy Authority will soon be constituted, to act as the key offshore wind agency for India.

Plans to stabilize the grid are part of India’s goal to double renewables capacity by 2017, progress that would help avoid widespread electricity blackouts, such as last year’s, which left half of the country’s population without power.

Rural energy access

While the grid upgrade is widely welcomed, off-grid energy access remains a key issue in India. According to the World Bank, 400 million people in India do not have access to electricity. Furthermore, the International Energy Agency (IEA)'s World Energy Outlook 2011 argues that increasing dependency on large-scale, centralized power from coal would still leave one billion people without energy access by 2030.

The IEA recommends that regardless of climate change concerns, the necessary path to universal energy access in un-electrified, rural areas is through scaling-up decentralized, off-grid clean energy models.

Off-grid pilot

To improve rural energy access many off-grid projects are now underway across the country, including a program being planned by The Climate Group.

Subaskar Sitsabeshan, Programme Analyst, The Climate Group, explains the early-stages of the project: "According to the latest Rural electrification progress report, approximately 33,000 villages are un-electrified in India - a population that could eventually be connected to renewable energy sources. Clean energy technology, including solar and wind generation and efficient LED lighting, could revitalize India’s failing energy system.

"The Climate Group’s project, currently titled Rural Access to Energy in India, principally funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, will operate across three states, piloting various business models, in order to identify the sustainable business models that can then be scaled up rapidly to reach the 33,000 un-electrified villages.

"We are in the process of consulting with various potential partners for this project, and the business models that we have come across so far have been truly fascinating. We expect that this project will demonstrate the potential of renewable energy sources in India, and ultimately, stimulate India’s Clean Revolution."

Related news: 

Indian Prime Minister wants clean energy subsidies, doubling of renewables by 2017

Subaskar Sitsabeshan: India's policymakers must find renewable solutions to alleviate energy poverty

India’s blackout signals urgent need for clean energy restructure

By Clare Saxon

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