Provide universal energy access through public-private-people partnerships
Nowadays, a lot of discussion is centred around economic inequalities—in terms of income and wealth. But societal inequalities go much deeper and encompass aspects that do not even catch the attention of many, simply because they have not faced that deprivation. One such area that divides the populace pertains to energy access. While digital divide has become a common topic, discourse on universal energy access is still limited to practitioners and policy-makers, besides those who are at the receiving end. Unfortunately, access to clean energy—or the lack of it—has wide-ranging ramifications—from health to quality of life to education to lost opportunities for livelihood enhancements. Fortunately, over the years, India has made strides insofar as rural electrification and clean cooking energy is concerned, through programmes like Ujjwala, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana and Saubhagya. While infrastructure has been created and connections provided, in reality a sizeable population continues to rely on traditional sources for meeting its lighting and cooking needs. The reasons range from reliability of supply to affordability of electricity/LPG. That in most of the cases these are not easy to reach locations adds another layer of complexity.
If the country is to prosper in an inclusive manner, its unserved/underserved population must be provided access to clean energy. Regular government schemes have their limitations, time lags and budgetary constraints. Then there are systemic inefficiencies in last-mile implementation and maintenance, especially for those who have limited disposable income. That is where partnership comes in picture. Historically, public-private partnerships (PPP) have been on the forefront, mainly for infrastructure development, complementing limited public resources along with relatively expeditious delivery. But in PPP there is generally a lack of systematic mechanism to capture social concerns of the locals. That is the backdrop against which a more people-centric partnership—public-private-people partnership (PPPP)—was conceptualised. Since it includes end-users’ perspective in PPP, it is a people- or end-user-oriented approach.
Provisioning of clean energy access is a user-centric initiative involving rural community at different levels and it makes sense to adopt PPPP for its effective implementation. Also, that many corporates are willing to utilise CSR funds to help address basic energy access issues or that donors are ready to complement governmental efforts, helps crystallise a workable framework where all stakeholders including government departments, donor agencies, private sector and civil society work together. True to its nature, the bottom-up, active participation of those that are set to gain the most can be the cornerstone of PPPP for clean energy access initiatives.
In India, there have been initiatives to replace the use of kerosene with solar energy. A few took a long-term view on sustainability and decided to move away from the traditional model of subsidy-driven supply of solar systems. Instead, the model relied on engaging local entrepreneurs for efficient and reliable energy delivery. The focus of such steps has been to strengthen the value chain involving different stakeholders who can fulfil energy access gaps in remote areas. Realising the criticality of a people-centric approach, a PPPP roadmap was charted out to achieve scale, effectiveness and efficiency in clean energy delivery in the form of individual power packs, solar home systems, improved cook stoves, etc. The segment of society that faces energy access challenge is also economically weak, and lacks the wherewithal to afford modern gadgets in one go. Thus, a partial financial support towards the hardware cost is mobilised from corporates or bilateral donors. This helps make owning clean energy devices affordable. The balance of the hardware cost is contributed by the individual beneficiary availing small loans from SHGs or village organisations. This contribution gives them a sense of ownership, which leads to better sustainability of the product. To ensure adequate after-sales service, linkages with local energy entrepreneurs are one of the priorities. This way, all players—government departments, donor agencies, private sector and end-users—work in tandem to create a lasting impact. Lighting a Billion Lives campaign is one such initiative that associated with the Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society (JEEViKA) for a multi-year programme designed to improve energy access for its 50,000 women SHG members.
While government programmes are making a sea-change in enhancing energy access in rural areas, reliable supply of electricity in the evening hours and supply and affordability of LPG in remote areas remains a challenge. The PPPP model for delivering clean energy to such areas effectively supplements ongoing programmes.
-Amit Kumar is Senior Fellow and Senior Director, Rural Energy and Livelihoods, TERI