The World Energy
Council, India Member Committee, organised a two day India Energy Congress 2010
at Delhi on 6th and 7th April, 2010. I participated in
the Panel Discussion on the theme "Challenge of Accessibility". The issues
covered included - eradicating energy poverty, integration for infrastructure
adequacy and efficiency, subsidy and credit, Decentralised Distribution
Generation for rural areas, energy for mega cities and role of public private
Before I discuss some
of the issues which were deliberated, I outline the observations that I made as
a part of initial remarks:
spite of massive efforts that have been launched to substantially enhance the
electricity generation capacity, it is unlikely that we will be able to
eliminate power shortages in foreseeable future. India's target for overall
economic growth of 9 to 10% would require a similar growth rate in electricity
generation. Therefore, even if we accelerate the power capacity addition
programmes to match with the above requirement, much of it will go for meeting
the demand for manufacturing, service sector, urban infrastructure and to meet
the emerging requirements of modern living styles, which are gradually getting
pitched up, particularly in towns and cities.
rural India has always remained at the bottom of the priority list in so far as
providing access to commercial energy in general and electricity in particular
is concerned. The very fact that even after more than 50 years of independence,
the Census 2001 highlighted total inadequacy in terms of access to electricity.
For the whole of the country, it was less than 50% and for rural India as much
as 56% of population did not have access to electricity.
in India could be directly correlated to access to electricity and energy. The
latest estimates indicate that almost 39% of Indian population is below poverty
line (BPL); in case of rural India the figure is much higher. Again, these
figures represent the national average. Regional disparities are much more
pronounced. Correlating it to the proportions of population having access to
electricity, though the national average was 56%, atleast six large Indian
States had electricity connectivity in rural areas to the extent of less than
10%, in couple of cases less than 5%.
availability may increase, though adequate availability will continue to be a
challenge, but bigger challenge would be accessibility and that too for rural
India. We have seen, through experience, that when there is severe mismatch
between demand and supply, much more pronounced during peak hours, the biggest
brunt of the shortages goes to villages. Administratively and politically,
sometimes even technically, it is found more convenient to resort to load
sheddings in rural areas than in urban areas. This problem - the disparity and
discrimination - is becoming more pronounced in last few years with the ever
increasing presence of media and its impact on the decision making apparatus of
the Government. While the load sheddings of days together in rural India can go
unnoticed, even an hour of disruption of power supply in urban settings get
highlighted predominantly in newspapers and electronic media. Therefore, the
response of those who manage power supply and also of those who are at higher
levels of management - administrative and political - is predictable. They do,
and perhaps they should, respond to problems which occupy media projection more
than the problems though of higher magnitude, which do not capture the attention
of media. Under the circumstances, the fate of rural India may continue as such
in so far as making power available to them is concerned, if the present mode of
supply of electricity through grid continues. Grid Supply is bound to continue
to be more generous to urban and industrial areas than to rural population for
reasons mentioned above.
Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojna (RGGVY), formulated by Ministry of Power, and
approved by the Cabinet in 2005, has been a landmark Scheme aiming at creating
Rural Electricity Distribution Backbone (REDB) in order to create much needed
infrastructure to provide electricity access to all areas and to all households
in rural India. The main objective of the Scheme has been to develop the
required infrastructure. Obviously, this infrastructure alone will not ensure
supply of electricity. There has to be electricity to flow in these local
grids. It is here that distinction between availability of power and
accessibility to it becomes so vivid and clear. It is not to say that the
conceptual consideration that went into developing the architecture of the above
rural electrification programme does not have the relevance. In fact, it was
essential. But, to provide access, the necessary condition would be to have
enough power, and that too locally, which can flow into the rural electricity
sub-transmission and distribution systems.
RGGVY Scheme, when it was being formulated, did envisage the above likely
disconnect and the fact that the distribution backbone will have to be supported
by adequacy of power, and that too that power which can be made available to the
rural area. The fact that power of the grid may not be made available, to the
extent required, to the rural population, because of other priorities, was
known. Therefore, the RGGVY does envisage, to address this challenge,
Decentralised Distributed Generation as a possible answer to this major
problem. In fact, grant funding to the extent of 90% of the project cost is
available to DDG just as it is available for the distribution infrastructure.
In the first phase, RGGVY started addressing the gaps in the electricity
distribution backbone. Perhaps we could have simultaneously taken up also the
DDG Schemes. Only recently REC has come out with the Schemes on development of
Decentralised Distributed Generation. There are some inherent problems, mainly
on account of level of development of technologies to suit the rural area DDG
facilities. Normally, these were not encouraged because the cost of generation
was not competitive with conventional power such as power from coal or gas based
power plants. This problem could definitely be addressed through the financial
support which is available under the RGGVY.
generation technologies which could be relevant to such local requirements would
include Bio-mass, Solar (PV), Micro-hydel, Wind etc. Each technology will not
be relevant to every area. In the hill States, micro-hydel would be more
relevant and in planes, bio-mass and solar systems could be more appropriate.
When rural India gets the gas grid connectivity (unlikely in the near future),
even micro turbines could be deployed.
cost of power through non-conventional sources of electricity generation, could
be mitigated partly by grant funded DDG and partly by State distribution
companies recognising the fact that cost of supplying grid power to rural areas,
in view of high technical losses, is too costly for them and they could partly
bear the cost to support non-conventional generation, so that the present
financial loss that they are suffering could be partly reduced.
consideration to mitigate the high cost of electricity through new technologies
could be derived from the fact that Government subsidy on kerosene oil is
proving to be more costly and if the Government were to support the electricity
generation through new technologies by way of bearing an extra cost, though much
less than the subsidy they are supporting on kerosene, a win-win situation could
the other important factors which has stood in the way of extensive deployment
of DDG in a rural India has been the absence of any institutionalised
arrangement for long term operation and maintenance of these systems. Many of
them supported by various Government Schemes did not function well because the
post commissioning operations were not handled in a professional manner. Answer
to this problem could lie, as an option, in combining the development and post
commissioning maintenance, while entrusting the responsibility, to the same
agency. Selection of agencies should be so done that they also have the
responsibility of maintaining the system for a specified period of time during
which the local groups could be trained to take over. Involvement of local
bodies like Panchayats would be important for the success of the Scheme. RGGVY
Scheme requires the arrangement of Franchisees for taking care of the rural
electricity supply. Therefore, for the success of DDG, institutionalised
arrangement for development and massive capacity building exercise would be
important aspect of the rural electricity access would be in relation to revenue
sustainability. I recall, when we were formulating the Scheme, two most
important concerns which were uppermost in the minds of various Departments,
including Power Ministry, were in relation to - (a) availability of power, and
(b) revenue sustainability of supply of power. DDG together with Franchisee
Scheme for commercial aspects could effectively handle both these concerns.
systems did not get the mass support because it remained limited to lighting.
The emerging desire in rural India is to go beyond lighting - they also want T.V.,
Fans etc. The recent developments under which PV based solar systems could also
have local distribution and provide adequate answers to the above needs. During
the Panel Discussion the presentation from the TATA Solar BP highlighted that in
Chhattisgarh they have been able to provide connectivity to clusters of villages
in a radius of half kilometre.
the points that came up during discussion that if the DDG remained totally away
from the grid connectivity, overall rural development might remain restricted.
The answer lies in DDG systems also being connected to the grid. In fact, this
would make it more economical and effective inasmuchas it could feed power into
the grid when locally not needed. Similarly, when grid has excess power the
same could also be available. We must recognise that rural economy will expand
and contribute to national GDP only when electricity is supplied to a larger
extent, going beyond household needs.
regards lighting, right from the beginning the generation and distribution
arrangements could also include lighting through most efficient systems. CFL
and LED (preferably LED) could be incorporated in the Scheme right from
beginning, so that the electricity needs are minimised.
these are handled in a professional manner, then issues like technologies,
optimal capital costs, proper project management, financing, operations and
maintenance, Franchising the commercial operations, efficient lighting and
consumer gadgets etc. can all be properly addressed.
cannot be all encompassing and pervasive unless rural India is provided access
to adequate amount of energy, particularly electricity. As a matter of fact,
rural and urban divide is widening primarily on account of inadequacies of
electricity access to these areas. It is unlikely, that in foreseeable future
grid supply can provide an effective answer to the major challenge of providing
access to electricity in these areas. Therefore, Decentralised Distributed
Generation, with the arrangement of grid connectivity, when needed, is a
strongly recommended strategy.