India aggressively moving towards solarisation has indeed opened up the opportunity for energy reliance and power for all. Government support and encourage takes credit for such rapid developments within the country that promises to initiate socio-economic growth. However, since more than 60% of the country’s population reside in the rural areas, the only way to make solarisation a success is to involve the entire country and not limit the transformation to only metropolitan cities.
Understanding the plight, Government of India has brought forward initiative like- Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, Saubhagya Plan etc and the situation has started to change for good. However, we need to understand if more than 10% of houses in a village have electricity connection; Government of India considers the village electrified.
However, this does not really reach electricity to every home. And nearly the half of the households in rural India are still facing issues in getting un-interrupted electricity supply. Lack of an electricity grid, power evacuation and transmission issues, rising electricity costs and other issues have limited energy access in rural India. As a result, still 26% of rural households in India use kerosene as a source of lighting.
Focus on solar energy adoption can help India reduce its dependency to kerosene, which is harmful to health, India’s economy and efforts towards the green energy sustainability.
How Kerosene Usage is Impacting on India
Government must focus on improving solar power adoption rate within the rural areas, rather than subsidizing Kerosene, which places a heavy subsidy burden on the Government itself.
Surveys by International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) have shown that nearly Rs 600/annually could be saved by the Government of India for each consumer opting for solar energy instead of kerosene. And the consumers themselves can save up to Rs 576 annually by opting for solar energy and not using kerosene. Statistics show that erratic electricity supply or lack of an electricity grid have pushed nearly 85 million households in rural India to select kerosene. Among states of India, nearly 54% of the total country demand for kerosene comes from four states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Orissa. Statistics show that 82% of the rural households in Bihar use kerosene as it is the only source of lighting they have.
More importantly, Kerosene usage can cause health issues as burning kerosene form soot and emit toxic fumes that irritate eyes, cause respiratory illness and are potential fire related accidents waiting to happen. Although, it is apparent that Kerosene cannot be in competition with solar power, as there are literally no upsides of kerosene usage. However, continuous subsidization of kerosene is keeping people dependant on this fossil fuel usage. It had cost Government of India nearly $2 bn in 2016-17 for subsidizing kerosene, which is nearly one third of total FDI inflows in India towards renewable energy growth (~$6 bn) from 2000 to 2018.
In the same breath, we also need to highlight that 45% of the subsidised kerosene never reaches intended beneficiaries, but diverted to black market. So, it is clear that providing and using kerosene within Indian rural community only raises country’s expenses while not offering any ascension towards a better lifestyle in rural areas. On the other hand, focusing and investing in mini-grid and off-grid solar energy solutions in rural areas can translate into great results.
Therefore, Government of India should stop trying to make kerosene affordable to rural areas and help to set up solar panels to bring in positive changes in lives.
Solar Power Can Help, But Investment Needed
It really pays to trust in the Solar energy revolution in India. Solar power solutions like mini-grid, off-grid can really help illuminate the rural areas, until electricity grid connects every part of the country (though Saubhagya). However, there are still challenges like- bearing initial expenses of a solar power plant installation, subsidized kerosene cost, lack of availability and sales of solar lanterns, lack of awareness, bureaucratic hurdles in getting permission etc that are limiting solar energy penetration in rural India. In the same breath, we need to point out that a 50 kW solar grid with distribution capacity of 5 KM can offer electricity to more than 500 homes, schools, businesses with ease. Factoring in this information, we can state that it is profitable and progressive to stand in favour of solar power. And that is what the Government must do. Although, it is true that the rate of Kerosene usage has fallen 8.1% (in last 5 years), matching kerosene’s usage decline rate with solar adoption rate would not help the country financially, nor the people in its rural areas.
Investing in solar power mini-grid and off-grid installations in rural areas, bringing in flexible financing models, offering subsidies to reduce the burden of initial investment, simplifying approval process, raising awareness, and facilitating group loans are viable options that Government of India can uphold and provide to support a quicker green energy transition within the rural areas.