Clean Energy Innovations Can Lead to Sustainable Development of Rural India

When we talk about India, we know there are two; the urban, shining India and the rural mostly backward India. When it comes to basic continuous energy supply rural India lags. This has been historically creating issues for the entire power sector in the country as for agricultural use and for other purposes power is diverted to India’s villages at a very high cost for the distribution companies.
Solar can be a game changer for the agricultural sector, saving precious water resources, reducing dependency on the grid, and even becoming an additional revenue stream for farmers. Off-grid solar can be utilized to power India’s villages, provide electricity to healthcare centers in far-flung areas, guarantee power supply to schools and the like.
Apart from this, solar projects can also be installed atop water reservoirs, canals, lakes and the like. This also prevents large volumes of water being vaporized. Installing solar projects on reservoirs leads to utilization of area that was unheard of a few years ago and no one needs to be displaced for such a project.
In dry areas in northern India that have canal systems, solar panels can be used to cover the top to prevent excessive evaporation as well as to generate electricity, no other source of energy generation provides such ease of development and generation.
A study by Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) found that a market opportunity of more than $50 billion exists for clean energy innovations to power livelihoods in rural India. Per the study a majority of this opportunity exists in India’s farm sector. For instance, only three activities – rice transplanting, pesticide spraying and harvesting of grains – have a total market potential worth $40 billion.
Beyond agriculture, an opportunity of more than $13 billion also exists in the non-farm sector, where clean energy innovations could transform activities, such as spinning, weaving, milling, refrigeration, and heating. Ninety-two per cent of India’s electricity-deprived population lives in rural areas. Farm power availability in India is a third of that in China. In the farm sector, clean energy has the potential to mechanize many activities including irrigation, fertilizer application, seed-sowing, and cold chain. It could reduce input costs and improve agricultural productivity.
The study also found that more than 4 million rural micro-enterprises in India mention lack of reliable electricity as the top bottleneck to their businesses. Clean energy-powered energy-efficient machines could help meet existing demand and significantly boost rural businesses such as automobile repair, beauty salons, beedi manufacturing, furniture manufacturing, jewelry making, post-harvest processing, poultry farming, restaurants, and custom tailoring. 
The farm sector market is more difficult to cater to than the non-farm sector due to low utilization rates of agricultural equipment and the high capital expenditure of clean energy solutions, according to The Council’s analysis. The economic viability of these solutions could be improved by reducing battery costs and developing cost-effective, super-efficient and small-sized motors. Energy efficiency is also a critical factor in making these solutions economically viable. However, existing livelihood appliances prevalent in rural areas are not designed for efficiency, but for unreliable and subsidized electricity.

The Council’s study, supported by GoodEnergies Foundation, also found that currently only about 20 clean energy innovations for livelihoods exist in India. These include solar-powered pumps, milk chillers, milking machines, sewing machines, charkhas, looms, cold storages, knapsack sprayers, and many more. But the deployment of most of these technologies is limited to a few hundreds, compared to millions of farmers and rural enterprises in India’s 600,000 villages. High upfront cost, low and fragmented rural demand, and paucity of long-term debt to end customers remain major challenges to realize the market potential.
Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW, said, “Clean energy innovations could boost India’s rural economy by providing reliable energy access to farmers and micro-enterprises. This would not only create new livelihood opportunities but also improve productivity, product value, and incomes. However, currently, very few clean energy innovations have been deployed in rural India at scale. Most of them, except solar-powered irrigation systems, are at an early, pre-commercial stage, with limited revenues. Scaling up such deployment needs robust support ecosystem, enabling large pilots for such technologies to prove their commercial viability and unlock support from investors, policymakers and financiers.”
Solar-powered PHCs could significantly improve in-patient services, out-patient services, emergency care, delivery services, and laboratory services in rural India. In May 2018, the Government of India issued a statement, per which, with the electrification of Leisang village in the Senapati district of Manipur, India achieved total electrification of its 597,464 inhabited villages. This will result in heightened rural demand for power. Time is ripe for a decentralized clean energy revolution in rural India for the safety of the grid as well as for realizing the aim of 24*7 power for all.

Saumy Prateek is a senior staff reporter with covering business and energy news since 2016. Prior to Mercom, Saumy was a copy editor at Thomson Reuters. Saumy earned his Bachelors Degree in Journalism & Mass Communication from the Manipal Institute of Communication at Manipal University.

Download the report here.


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