Collaboration fastest route to energy access for all in India, agree influential experts

Reading time: 5 minutes
19 August 2015

NEW DELHI: Today top off-grid energy practitioners, policymakers and entrepreneurs agreed sector collaboration is the most effective way to lead India’s flourishing renewables market, signifying another self-assured step toward global energy access for all.

The experts’ remarks were made at The Climate Group’s first ever India Off-Grid Energy Summit, which was introduced by our India Director Krishnan Pallassana. He laid out the achievements of our off-grid energy project Bijli - Clean Energy for All, principally funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, which recently exceeded its target for connecting rural communities to renewables in India.

Speaking next, our CEO Mark Kenber praised off-grid renewable energy for helping meet the world’s UN Sustainable Development Goals as well as being “right at the heart” of climate and economic development challenges – and solutions. He told the packed room in New Delhi: “That is why it is so exciting to see so many people here today. The Climate Group convenes, catalyzes and communicates those solutions; we bring people like you together to make that change happen, and crucially, provide an example to the rest of the world.”

Also clarifying the huge potential for decentralized renewable energy (DRE) in remote areas were speakers Svati Bhogle Chair, Clean Energy Access Network and Vikas Dawra, Managing Director, YES Bank, who nodded to our Bijli project as evidence of DRE’s manifold positive impacts including in education and healthcare.

POWER OF COLLABORATION

But while these benefits have translated into progress, by 2024 it is estimated that 70-75 million households will still not be grid-connected at all, as H.E. Fons Stoelinga, Ambassador of Netherlands to India restated. In order to hit those targets, he warned we must redouble our collaborative efforts.

A similar message came from Upendra Tripathy, Secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India, who suggested we “come together across different platforms”.

The power of collaboration was illustrated in the flesh though, by H.E. Richard R. Verma, Ambassador of US to India, who announced an initial call for proposals for the US-India US7.9 million PACEsetter Fund, a compelling bilateral cooperation to accelerate clean energy innovation in underserved communities.

Then reminding the audience of India’s “breakneck” development as the context for initiatives like PACEsetter and the government’s plan to connect 18,500 villages over the next 1,000 days, the Ambassador put simply: “Half of rural households cannot participate in India’s growth as they are not connected to grid based electricity.”

OFF-GRID GROWTH

Following the morning’s speakers was a panel moderated by Dr Arunabha Ghosh CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, who also looked to the government’s targets – this time the Solar Mission of 100 gigawatts by 2022 – but controversially said “whether we get there by 2022 or 2025 is not the most important question. It’s where does DRE fit in?”

Answering this question was an expert panel chaired by Shri Tarun Kapoor, Joint Secretary of MNRE, who pointed out that despite challenges such as power shortages, grid maintenance and finance issues, the government is moving forward with DRE “in a big way”.

Dr Harish Hande Co-founder and CEO, SELCO India and COO, SELCO Foundation said this market clarity will “pave the way for entrepreneurship and innovation, which will percolate into the wider economy.” He further pressed on the transcendence of seemingly small-scale DRE, stating: “We should look at off grid as something that India can incorporate in Paris [COP21 climate talks]”.

Giles Bristow, Director of Programmes, Forum for the Future agreed that the impact of DRE in India is reverberating outside of South Asia too, with off-grid solutions “appearing on ministers’ radars” in the UK. The Director also urged innovation at the “systemic level”, suggesting that other sectors benefitting from off-grid such as health or agriculture should reward developers too.

BUSINESS INNOVATION

The idea of innovating cross-sector finance and business models to grow DRE was also touched on by Dipal Barua Founder of Bright Green Energy Foundation, who told the audience to take advantage of “whatever model is most suitable: we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

However, Ashvin Dayal of the Rockefeller Foundation explained that this complex, dynamic and evolving nature is fundamentally the marketplace’s biggest challenge for entrepreneurs and investors, so in order to survive they “must be comfortable with many solutions coexisting”. To navigate the market he called for “a lot more coordination” and the greater ongoing “convergence of policy, finance, entrepreneurs”.

Following thematic sessions on policy, finance, business innovation and technologies which we will share online later this week, the all-day summit closed with a second plenary led by Krishan Dhawan, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation. He applauded the Summit participants in helping “rural India reach its aspirations” and said the thematic sessions offered a “huge learning opportunity” which "must be consolidated".

Dr O.S. Sastry National Institute of Solar Energy Gov of India, Ashis Kumar Sahu of CLEAN and Colin Dreizin, USAID - who hoped India “will be a model for other countries” - made up the final segment, along with Jaco Cilliers, UNDP India. 

Jaco Cilliers summarized the day’s events by explaining the standard development hurdles all charities and governments have to overcome whatever the concept, including finance, policy and improving understanding. “We can honestly say the political hurdle is not there anymore, as there are large scale commitments from government and India wants to take the leadership role.

"The work we have done today is the motivational hurdle; it must be addressed and overcome.”

Summit activities continue on August 20 with closed-door workshops, where experts from the renewable off-grid sector will focus on solutions and capacity building.


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by Clare Saxon Ghauri

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