Background: In pursuing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal of affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy access for all, India's electrification efforts are dominated by a central electricity grid, with 100% of villages now connected. Despite this, 305 million people still remain without electricity. Off-grid electrification may play an important role in energy access for these 'last mile' consumers. However, opportunities are directly influenced by government plans and policies, including the integration of grid and off-grid systems. This paper aims to provide a contemporary assessment of the policies of the government, and how they manifest in electrification systems in rural and remote India, revealing opportunities and threats for the sector.
Method: The progress of village electrification is examined via policy announcements and the Indian government's dedicated websites on progress. The role and extent of off-grid systems are then examined in two contrasting Indian states: industrialised Maharashtra and less-developed Odisha. Publically-available information is supplemented with data obtained directly from known private sector operators and state agencies. The geographic and societal setting of off-grid locations is then examined to provide contextual commentary. Finally, interviews with key stakeholders (regulatory authorities, distribution companies, private firms, industry bodies and academia) were undertaken to validate findings.
Results: There is evidence of some remote localities not included in the government's electrification programs. The grid's poor quality and reliability, along with affordability barriers, means that the government's grid connection efforts may not result in significant improvements in electricity use by some consumers. Data from Maharashtra and Odisha showed limited private sector off-grid systems, generally operating on the periphery of government programs. This is despite the fact that there seems to be an opportunity for the private sector to enter the market, given the grid's shortcomings.
Conclusion: The shortcomings of India's centralised electrification paradigm could be overcome through more localised off-grid solutions that can access 'last mile' consumers. The government might consider achieving this by formally recognising the role of off-grid systems in India's electrification objectives. Further, the government could extend the reach of electrification by transferring responsibilities for household electricity access to local-level businesses and community organisations.
- Electricity access
- Rural electrification