Exploring how to empower rural communities in India with clean energy

25 January 2016

Shilpi Samantray, Project Officer, The Climate Group, blogs about her visit to a village on the east coast of India, where she met people whose lives could be positively impacted by improved access to renewable power through The Climate Group’s Bijli – Clean Energy for All project.

So far, our Bijli - Clean Energy for All project has provided clean, affordable solar energy access to over 65,000 people in the states of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh in India. But we don’t want to stop there.

After researching rural regions in India that could potentially benefit from Bijli’s aim to scale up low carbon power, we selected the village of Kendujhar in the north of Indian state Odisha to investigate further.

It took nearly five hours to reach Kendujhar in the boiling heat. One of the major fertile, mineral producing districts, many mining companies are based in the village – but electricity is still not widespread here.

After meeting our guide Mr. Sareen from Indian Grameen Services, we visited Asanpat Gram Panchayat and Khuntapada Gram Panchayat (Panchayat is the local government at the village level) to get more of an idea about the area, and the community’s experiences with electricity.

We met several villagers on our way, most of who were farmers. They explained that when the region’s transformer went out of order, it took one year to get repaired – during which time people in the community went entirely without electricity.  This is a problem we hope reliable, affordable solar could solve. After all, India gets 300 days of sunshine.

Next we visited Anganwadi, a government initiative under the Integrated Child Development Services program which provides basic health services, to access records of villagers including births, deaths, pregnancies and the immunization of children. Aiming to combat child hunger and malnutrition, Anganwadi works with Accredited Social Health Activist and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives with financial and technical assistance from UNICEF and the World Bank, and has had an incredible impact in the region.

On our second day we met Mridha Toppo, Block Development Officer of Kendujhar. He explained that the leader of a Panchayat could be another possible barrier to upgrading to new, clean energy systems, due to lack of awareness of the topic.  It is exactly this kind of on-the-ground information that is invaluable to us in planning how we can encourage adoption of solar power in villages like Kendujhar.

On our final day we had a detailed group discussion with the villagers of Asanpat. As well as explaining issues they had experienced due to bad rainfall and no advanced irrigation facilities, the villagers also outlined how the initial deposit for electricity connection is too high – especially on top of the monthly rent for power.

Most of the villagers welcomed our idea of clean energy systems, but our local partners and team of consultants will continue to carry out a 500-household survey in the area – then based on the data collection and analysis we will plan our next crucial steps.

It is clear that if we truly want to make change in rural India, it should begin at a grass roots level – where the government has already done some good work in terms of basic infrastructure. But more power and authority must be given to the block level officers for faster adoption of clean, affordable electricity in all of India’s villages.

By Shilpi Samantray

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