Why Are 300 Mn Indians Still Waiting For Electricity When The Solution Is Right In Front Of Us?

Posted on August 19, 2014 in Environment, Society

By Ruhie Kumar:

What does the word independence mean to you?

Is it about living in a sovereign state where the national government can make decisions for national interest? How does it reflect for Indians?

While many of us debate the rhetoric behind freedom in India after the 68th Independence Day, and as we sit down and think about how India is on the path of development and progress, there are millions of homes that struggle to meet their everyday needs. As per a report from 2011 on World Energy Outlook , the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that despite United Nation’s mission of sustainable energy for all, we still continue to live in a world where 1.3 billion of the poorest people live without access to modern electricity- of which, a major proportion lives in India. There are more than 300 million people still waiting for electricity in India with more than a third of the rural population lacking electricity. Only 52.5 per cent of rural households have access to electricity.

Solar Powered Street Light in Dharnai Village in India. Photo Credit: Subrata Biswas
Solar Powered Street Light in Dharnai Village in India. Photo Credit: Subrata Biswas

What am I talking about? We all know these numbers; we read about it every day in the media. Yes, India is a developing country, and we are growing at a rapid rate. But energy is one of the basic needs of every individual in this country today.

Let’s try and think about the dependence conundrum for a minute – communities are left behind in the development model because children in that community cannot study after dusk; safety and security is the biggest concern because there are no lights on the street after sunset. Also think about villages where health conditions are compromised on a daily basis because there is no means to run a hospital, or provide basic life saving health care due to lack of electricity.

Lack of energy implies being left behind in the development model. But how does this work exactly? India is trying hard to provide energy to its population- then why are we struggling on such a large scale?

Because India is getting trapped in the cycle of energy dependence. We know we need the energy in huge amounts, and we are sourcing it as well, locally and internationally. But what are we doing to ensure that it is a long-term solution? How are we ensuring that the constant supply of power remains where it has made its prominent presence, and also penetrates into rural communities which have been energy starved for several years?

Alternative energy– it is imperative that we look at sources that promise growth and availability for the coming centuries. Why should we depend on coal, thermal, nuclear energies which depend on exhaustive sources of minerals? India lies in a geographical region where sunlight, wind and biomass sources can be tapped for energy needs.

Children in Dharnai Village. Photo Credit: Vivek M
Children in Dharnai Village. Photo Credit: Vivek M

Building small decentralised models running on renewable energy is the way forward for development. Depending on central grids has only resulted in decades of deprivation, impoverishment and unending struggle for thousands of villages in India. Micro-grids are distribution grids that can be developed using a bottom-up approach, just like home energy systems and off-grid systems, and using locally available renewable energy sources to meet local energy demand.

Just take the example of Bihar. Getting out of Patna will give you an insight in the energy poverty that affects the region. Bihar is home to fertile soil and the weather is conducive to large scale farming. But villages have been failed by the state of energy distribution by the central grid. Years, sometimes decades have passed, and many of the villages have not received electricity till date. It is also a state with the lowest per capita energy consumption in India, with a mere 122.11 units, compared to the national average of around 778.71 units. Even today, 82% of the state lacks access to electricity. (see info here) One such example is of revenue village of Dharnai, located in the Jehanabad district of Bihar. Dharnai did not get electricity for 30 years, until a decentralised solar micro grid was installed in July 2014. Read Dharnai’s story from struggle to empowerment here.

Can you imagine that while we ponder upon the nation’s development and the advances Indians have made globally in various frontiers, there are villages which cannot even function post sunset every single day.

Think hard, why do we need to be dependent when we have options of renewable energy which reaches to remote communities and meets their demands, all without compromising on the environment and livelihoods. Let’s be pragmatic and think beyond our own backyard.