An estimated 360 million to 460 million people in India have little or no access to energy. That’s roughly a third of the people in one of the world’s most populous countries, and more than the United States and Canada’s populations combined. In terms of these raw numbers, India suffers from the most extreme energy poverty in the world.
The Sustainable Development Goal no 7 concentrates on this very problem which further affects development at all stages be it education, healthcare or sanitation for that matter.
Goal #7: Ensure Access To Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable and Modern Energy For All
Lack Of Access To Usable Energy Is A Big Problem
Energy poverty is severe when you go deeper in the rural areas, especially in the case of electricity. People in the villages still depend on traditional forms of lighting like gas lamps, kerosene lamps or oil lamps in the remotest parts of the country since they are affordable and readily available. Our next question would be – Why can’t we get electricity to these places? Do we lack the means to generate electricity or the logistics to take it to these far-flung areas?
As author, Ian Chipman rightly pointed out, the primary reason for this gap in electricity is the Central Grid. The state-run energy board is responsible for issuing or distributing energy from power stations to areas located far and deep within the country. Poor financial health of discoms or the central grid creates a major power deficit that has no backup. State run electricity distribution companies are required to distribute this energy at highly subsidized costs. Whereas this cost hardly covers the price required for the infrastructure and the labour that come into play to reach remote areas. In simple words, ‘when there is a power cut, people look up to the central grid to fix it, which is futile. Because they can’t afford it’
Clean tech company Oorja Solutions is setting up decentralized micro-grids in remote and unreachable areas across the country. These power plants use agriculture waste to provide unrestricted supply of electricity at affordable costs. To make its solution sustainable, Oorja also provides a means of livelihood through micro entrepreneurship to the villagers.
Challenges Around Rural Development And Energy Access Are Intertwined
Making energy available is the first stage of solving energy poverty. The second stage is deploying it to uplift the user economically. While the government is pulling up its socks to ensure unrestricted energy supply, the real question is how to establish a relationship between energy and the socio-economic progress of rural masses.
Simpa Networks, a clean energy company based in Noida is addressing this question. Right from providing solar housing systems at affordable costs to adopting a super flexible ‘Pay-as-you-go’ model, Simpa Networks is trying to fuse energy access and sustainable economic development.
“300 million people in India still lack access to energy. Gaining access is a major enabler to increase the standard of living of people. Apart from mitigation measures for climate change, we are working towards the provision of clean and affordable energy for all, in turn helping people come out of the cycle of poverty by creating better livelihood opportunities, environment for quality education and contributing to the health and well-being of those using obsolete means of energy. We have so far avoided 2075 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions and reached out to more than 1.6 lakh people through our efforts in rural India. Standing upon the platform of this new sustainable reality, we look to transform access to energy into access to meaningful choice and opportunity for these people.” – Ashwin Kurian, Product Development Leader, Simpa Networks
There Is A Crying Need For Adoption Of Clean Fuels
The 2009–2010 Natural Sample Survey indicated that 76% of rural households still used wood for cooking, as did 17.5% in urban areas. It is well-known that such low-efficiency, high-emissions energy harm health and environment severely. Access to clean, no-smoke and zero carbon emitting domestic fuel is still a problem in majority of rural areas, forcing women to resort to wood stoves or cow dung cakes as fuel.
Greenway Grameen Infra, winner of the Ashden Clean Energy for Women and Girls Award 2014, is the largest manufacturer of clean cooking stoves in India. Greenway’s flagship product is Smart Stove. It burns traditional biomass fuels like wood and cow dung, but reduces them by 65 per cent to produce the same heat as mud stoves, with 70 per cent less smoke and 1.5 tonnes less Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions every year.
India faces a severe problem of energy access. This further affects development of education, healthcare or sanitation in the country. Solving this problem through affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all can unlock rural development. Cleantech startups understand this and are showing the way ahead.