Insights into Editorial: How to achieve 24×7 power for all
Electricity consumption is one of the most important indices that decide the development level of a nation. Electricity is the driver for India’s development.
Almost every willing household in India now has a legitimate electricity connection.
The household electrification scheme, Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or Saubhagya, has been implemented at an unprecedented pace.
More than 45,000 households were electrified every day over the last 18 months.
The Government of India is committed to improving the quality of life of its citizens through higher electricity consumption. The aim is to provide each household access to electricity, round the clock. The ‘Power for All’ programme is a major step in this direction.
Government of India launched ‘Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana’ (Saubhagya) in Sept. 2017 to achieve the goal of universal household electrification in the country by 31st March 2019.
The scheme envisages to provide last mile connectivity and electricity connections to all remaining households in rural as well as urban areas.
The Government with the support of State Power Departments and DISCOMs have already connected about 3 Crore households since launch of scheme.
Beyond connections: Uninterrupted Power Flow must be Way Forward:
Despite such massive efforts, the battle against electricity poverty is far from won.
The erection of electricity poles and an extension of wires do not necessarily mean uninterrupted power flow to households.
While the median hours of supply increased from 12 hours in 2015 to 16 hours a day in 2018, it is still far from the goal of 24×7.
Despite the subsidies, constant loss of revenue would make it unviable for DISCOMS to continue servicing these households in the long run.
Low consumer density along with difficult accessibility mean that conventional approaches involving meter readers and payment collection centres will be unviable for many rural areas.
By tracking more than 9,000 rural households, since 2015, across six major States (Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal), the Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity Survey of States (ACCESS) report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), has highlighted the gap between a connection and reliable power supply.
Similarly, while instances of low voltage and voltage surges have reduced in the last three years, about a quarter of rural households still report low voltage issues for at least five days in a month.
Therefore, How can we ensure 24×7 power for all?
In order to achieve 24×7 power for all, we need to focus on three frontiers:
First, India needs real-time monitoring of supply at the end-user level:
- We achieve what we measure. While the government is bringing all feeders in the country online, we currently have no provision to monitor supply as experienced by households.
- Only such granular monitoring can help track the evolving reality of electricity supply on the ground and guide DISCOMS to act in areas with sub-optimal performance.
- Eventually, smart meters (that the government plans to roll out) should help enable such monitoring.
Second, DISCOMS need to focus on improving the quality of supply as well as maintenance services:
- Adequate demand estimation and respective power procurement will go a long way in reducing load shedding.
- Moreover, about half the rural population across the six States reported at least two days of 24-hour-long unpredictable blackouts in a month.
- Such incidents are indicative of poor maintenance, as opposed to intentional load-shedding.
- DISCOMS need to identify novel cost-effective approaches to maintain infrastructure in these far-flung areas.
- Some States have already taken a lead in this. Odisha has outsourced infrastructure maintenance in some of its rural areas to franchisees, while Maharashtra has introduced village-level coordinators to address local-level challenges. Such context-based solutions should emerge in other States as well.
Finally, the improvement in supply should be complemented with a significant improvement in customer service, which includes billing, metering and collection.
Success depends on curbing DISCOM losses and consumer honesty.
Distributed generation could complement centralised grid electricity to resolve both, and ensure sustained use of electricity not just for rural households, but also for the entire rural economy including farms, schools, hospitals, and small businesses.
It would lead to improved consumer satisfaction, as electricity truly becomes an enabler of prosperity in rural India.
Around 27% of the electrified rural households in the six States were not paying anything for their electricity.
We need radically innovative approaches such as the proposed prepaid smart meters and last-mile rural franchisees to improve customer service and revenue collection.
Rural renewable energy enterprises could especially be interesting contenders for such franchisees, considering the social capital they already possess in parts of rural India.
As we focus on granular monitoring, high-quality supply, better customer service and greater revenue realisation at the household level, we also need to prioritise electricity access for livelihoods and community services such as education and health care.
Only such a comprehensive effort will ensure that rural India reaps the socio-economic benefits of electricity.