People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 18

April 30, 2006

Electricity For All By 2010 Requires Shift In Perception


   S P Gon Chaudhuri


ELECTRICITY plays a very important role in supporting the various economic activities to increase people’s welfare. After 58 years of independence, India has almost half a billion people without access to electricity. The traditional model of utility based, centralised grid extension cannot cover the entire population for demographic and economic reasons. When we talk about rural electrification we always think about distribution lines, transformers, poles and conductors involving large quantum of power. We generally do not think about small-distributed generation, which is often beautiful.


The Load Survey for Rural India indicates that the vital energy needs of 30 million rural households are for lighting, followed by entertainment, driven by need to power TVs, Tape Recorders, etc.  However, the amount of electricity required is so low, that the distribution line operates only at 10 per cent utilisation, even many States in the country have achieved 100% rural electrification long back yet only 60 per cent – 65 per cent rural households have taken electric connections. As such the transportation cost of energy becomes very high. Most of the rural people do not think of using electricity beyond the above-mentioned applications.


Providing centralised supply of electricity to remote areas requires capital- intensive distribution networks without capacity addition. Many rural electrification programmes have involved extending grids from larger to small demand centers with increasing economic and technical difficulties.


An alternative to a centralised system is to develop and support the market for decentralised electricity access. This obviously, requires a shift in perception from the focus of commercial energy to the provision of energy services. The distributed generation has been successfully demonstrated in a number of instances, though challenges still exist. For example, the poor do not have the available credit to invest in solar home electricity system and financial institutions and the governments are often geared to financing large scale infrastructures rather than small scale facilities. Such an attitude creates major but unfocussed problems in the country. The result of such an attitude is disparity between the level of village electrification and electrification of rural households. The village electrification level in the country has already exceeded 87 per cent whereas household electrification level in the country is only 47 per cent, and in respect of household electrification, there is a big regional imbalances.


The households electrification level in the Eastern and North Eastern parts of the country is comparatively low. There are many reasons behind such low figure of household electrification. It is not only due to poor performance of State Electricity Boards (SEB) but also due to other social and political issues. A large cross section of the people residing in this region require energy for lighting purposes and they will continue to do so for the coming few years. As present, these people are more or less compelled to be satisfied with Kerosene oil lamps which give them at least energy independence in the sense that they have a reliable lighting source and get the service as and when they need it. They are very much aware that Kerosene oil based lamps are inefficient, polluting and often they purchase Kerosene oil at Rs 30.00 per Ltr. But they do not have any other alternatives. Even if they take electric connections often the same is not available to them for days together. Here, also we need a change in perception. We must concentrate more on small distributed generation system, keeping in view both centralized and decentralised generation. In fact, one should compliment the other. The Rural electrification programme based on centralised generation, with extension of grid, is already under execution stage and gradually picking up mainly in the affluent rural areas of the country. However, the concept of distributed generation particularly Individual Distributed Generation (IDG) system which mostly comprise of Solar Photovoltaic Home Lighting Systems, is most relevant for the rural poor from technical, economic and social point of view. This has not so far been properly explored.


The Solar Home Lighting System, of appropriate capacity can do miracles in rural areas both in respect of providing light to the poor people, employment generation in rural areas, improve overall socio-economic condition keeping harmony with nature.  It has been estimated that in order to install and maintain about one hundred Solar Home Lighting Systems at least three unemployed youths could be engaged. For servicing of 10 million Solar Home Systems services of about 3 lacs semi-educated unemployed youth would be required. It is easy to install and at least 30 million households could be covered under this programme within a very short period.


The country has the necessary infrastructure for implementation of such are important programme. In fact, solar module production capacity of the nation has not yet been fully utilised. The need of the hour is to launch a National Solar Energy Programme. The programme could be named as The Solar Mission. Setting up of Solar home lighting systems and small Solar PV Power Plants have already been tried in many parts of the country, particularly in the State of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and parts of UP. The result is very encouraging, It has been highly praised and also recorded by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy and Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly.


The programme already has a good performance record though in a limited sphere. In a country like India such a programme could be converted into a people’s programme. The country may launch a nationwide programme to eradicate the use of Kerosene oil based polluting lanterns.


Initiation of an effective implementation of the Solar Mission to power 30 million households will ensure light to the rural people. Further they will have access to the outer world through electronic media. The Solar Mission could be a right step for a country like India.