Solar power for universal energy access: Learnings from India

Following two oil shocks in the 1970s, India recognised the importance of energy selfreliance and made it a priority to develop the new and renewable energy sector. Hydro, wind, and solar power were the primary sources of renewable energy that the government aimed to deploy to support its plans for widespread energy access and security.

The learnings and experience of India’s successful electricity access journey can be leveraged to support developing nations in meeting their own electricity access targets. The following learnings emerge from India’s electricity access journey:

  • Robust policy and regulatory framework:India’s progress towards electricity access has been driven by a strong policy push, backed by regulatory developments to provide further clarity. Policies and programs have regularly been introduced to support various electricity access measures and solar segments, including off grid solar, solar mini-grids, rooftop solar, and utility scale solar. Thus, all relevant stakeholders are provided clarity on the government’s viewpoint and objectives for each solar technology, improving the market environment. Additionally, a number of states have introduced specific solar policies as well, charting out their targets and incentives with respect to solar capacity. As a result, incentives and support were often available from two sources which could be tailored to state specific ecosystems for achieving maximum impact.
  • Flexible approach to electrification: India has recognised that no single approach to electrification is capable of providing last mile access to electricity in the country. An electrification strategy is heavily dependent on a number of site-specific considerations, including community size, population density and socio-economic status, distance from existing grid infrastructure, and terrain complexity. These parameters vary significantly across different access deficit regions in India considering its diversity, and the government recognised that it is not practical to deploy a single solution to meet the country’s electricity access needs. Initially, India focused on developing its electricity grid along with the development of off grid solar lighting and productive use appliances for remote and rural regions. Subsequently, India introduced the Electricity Act and the RGGVY and DDUGJY initiative to drive rural electrification. As renewable energy sources such as solar become more widely available, additional schemes to support renewable energy driven electrification were introduced, the launch of the launch of the National Solar Mission in 2010. As grid infrastructure continued to improve, India targeted last mile electrification primarily through the grid through SAUBHAGYA scheme. Once significant electrification was achieved through the grid, the focus shifted towards diversification to decentralised solar systems to improve reliability of electricity access. Thus, countries embarking on their electricity access journey can learn from India’s approach and ensure that they are able to pivot their strategy depending on the changing circumstances
  • Leveraging new technologies to improve capabilities: In keeping with their flexible approach to electrification, India has ensured the use of new technologies as they become available. The country become an early adopter of solar for decentralised access by deploying off grid devices in 1992. The country has also taken steps to provide early support to other applications of solar energy, including utility scale solar projects, rooftop solar plants, and mini-grids. India has also taken steps to digitalise its grid to better serve the populace, with smart metering initiatives and improved Transmission and Distribution (T&D) infrastructure. This grid upgradation has helped reduce power losses in the country and allowed for improved integration of solar generation. Additionally, digitalisation of O&M services of solar plants have improved the operations and grid integration of solar projects.
  • Targeted programs with specific objectives: Although policies are a key enabler to drive electricity access plans, they typically outline high level targets and approaches without providing specifics. India has ensured that its efforts have not been restricted to broad policy commitments. Instead, the government has worked to develop targeted initiatives such as PM-KUSUM, SAUBHAGYA, DDUGJY, UMSPP, etc., with scheme targets. The development of such focused initiatives has provided clarity to both institutions and the private sector, allowing for rapid growth in electricity access.
  • Committed political leadership, institutional capacity, and strong mandate: Electricity access has been a key focus area of the Indian government. The commitment to provide last mile electricity access has been driven from the top at central level, thus galvanising efforts to meet targets. Additionally, adequate institutional capacity and know how has been developed to ensure that the relevant ministries are well placed to support electricity access initiatives. This political leadership and institutional capacity ensured timely and stringent implementation of electricity access initiatives, in order to improve coordination between the key Ministries of Power, New and Renewable Energy, and Coal, a single Minister of State for the three ministries was appointed in 2014.
  • Transparent monitoring and tracking: India placed a strong emphasis on data collection to ensure proper monitoring of electricity access and solar related initiatives. This data collection allowed stakeholders to make informed decisions within scheme frameworks. Additionally, the country developed online portals for the power sector as a whole, as well as for various specific schemes. These portals were easily accessible to the public and were regularly updated. As a result, nongovernment stakeholders have easy access to up-to-date information regarding scheme progress, allowing for improved analysis and decision making. The collected data was also provided at state level, providing greater granularity in analysis while also encouraging internal competition across states to further speed up progress.


India has recognised that it’s experience in the solar sector can be leveraged to support developing countries meet their energy needs in a sustainable manner. As a result, India and France established the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015. As a treaty based international intergovernmental organisation, ISA supports deployment of solar technologies for energy access for its member countries. ISA’s membership includes a large share of LDC and SIDS countries, and their broad-ranging initiatives provide a platform for India and other nations to share their learnings and expertise in the solar sector.


Excerpt of: Roadmap of Solar Energy for Universal Energy Access, International Solar Alliance (ISA) 2023


Download the full report here.