Customise energy for rural India

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    It is reckoned that more than 55% of rural India has access to electricity. How do you think these concerns can be addressed?
    A large population in rural areas does not have access to electricity for lighting purposes because grid supply does not reach them. Village electrification has made progress in large section of villages. Now the problem is the definition. The definition of electrification has changed after 2003 and around 2006 when national rural electrification policy came. You will see that the definition change has the component of household getting electricity. Before it was about lighting up the community centres, the roads, etc, but today village electrification is all about lighting up the households. What hinders the process is the fact that taking grid lines to the interior parts of the country is expensive. So what is required is to have customized solution. It could be installation of a generator in the village in place of grid electricity.

    What best possible alternative could be employed to avoid the use of biomass?
    The problem with cooking energy is even worst because whatever we now have is inefficient to use as cooking energy. Biomass is used mostly, and energy used in very poorly ventilated houses poses enormous health hazards. It is a very inefficient form of energy; even heat generation is not very high. After all this I think we should focus on LPG. There are different ministries who look after different things but things do not come out properly because there is no integrated approach among them. They need to talk to each other and find out the solution to the problem. LPG bottling plants can be set up near each village so that villagers can have easy access.

    Can further privatisation of electricity help address the matter to an extent?
    First, there is no electricity, and second, there is no money. So if you say privatization. Which private bank will come in to invest? Generating revenues could be a concern. Rural areas are all isolated pockets. The longer distance you stretch to deliver grid electricity the higher is the loss. The loss level is high, so is the cost of electricity. It is apparent that in such a scenario companies will be unwilling to enter. But the alternative to private distribution it is to localise it or opt for community ownership. It could be the customization of the generation equipment, be it the diesel or the gas plant of very small size.

    Could you elaborate the roles harvested energy, such as solar, can play in development?
    The only problem with solar is the installation. One is that it’s about the price to be paid. Suppose I am an entrepreneur establishing a solar charging station capable enough to recharge 100 solar lanterns, what I can do is that I can lend these solar lanterns at a rate at much lower price or for fixed hours for commercial purpose to whosoever wants it. This way people are provided electricity, they also see the benefit. Villages with this awareness and commercial interest will be motivated. But the issue is that I must have enough money for initial investment. Another is the matter of maintenance. So for such an installation you need to have someone with the technological knowhow who can constantly look after the station.

    Kindly share what nuclear energy could do in such a scenario?
    One should recognize that we are in a densely populated country. Nuclear plants come with small risk and large benefits. Risk can occur at any key movement, like during processing. But if that occurs then its impact, radiation leakage, is very high and it may stay for the generations to come. So in such a densely populated country the impact would be much higher. So the question is if we can have nuclear plants in the middle of the densely populated state or near the coastal areas, can we have smaller nuclear power plant spread all over the country?  Despite what it could generate the controversy it could spark doesn’t make it feasible for us to build more plants.

    How would you compare this lack of access to electricity in our country with other developing nations?
    In Asia India is doing much better than many neighbouring countries. But if you compare India with China then China is much ahead of India because there is the difference because of the systems in place. China has advanced in the development of infrastructure than anything else. But they have their own issues. India’s many initiatives have been successful in small pockets. With all this the benefits of energy, awareness is not in dark at all.

    What immediate measures do you think the government should take to increase rural electrification?
    It is not important to frame new policies, it is important to implement the policies which are already in place. The first issue is that policies are not implemented properly. The second issue is that, as I told you, it is not important to look at the best suited practices. To make model successful, community should be engaged in it. Subsidiary should be target in such a manner that it isrolled out for the people who need it. R&M