em-Power-ment

‘Power’ means so many things. Its meaning varies as vastly as the rate of doing work, physical strength, influence or control and, across the Indian subcontinent – electrical energy. While we dream of making the nation the next super-power, it is that last definition of power, where we certainly lag. It is a misfortune that almost two decades into the new millennium; we in India are still struggling to provide the basic ingredient required for what we call the digital age, i.e. electricity.

India is home to the largest un-electrified population in the world, according to a World Bank survey done in 2014. Keeping this in mind, the current union government led by Hon. PM. Shri Narendra Modi has set an onerous deadline of hundred percent rural electrification across the length and breadth of the country by May 2018. While a host of schemes like ‘Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana’, URJA, UJALA and UDAY are being undertaken on a war footing, there still remains a substantial gap between the electrification of villages and that of households at the village level. In India, a village is considered electrified if at least 10% of the households and public buildings like schools have been provided electricity. Even if connected to the grid, frequent outages are neither unheard of nor a rarity. In fact, judging by the widespread use of the term ‘load shedding’ used to describe the deliberate shutdown of electric power in a part of a power-distribution system, just goes to show how outages are the norm rather than an exception. This, therefore, leaves a lot to be desired before we can truly call ourselves completely electrified.

While India sure has come a long way from 32227 un-electrified villages at the end of August 2013 (CEA, 2013), one aspect completely overlooked in this entire hullabaloo over complete electrification is the use of renewable sources of technology in achieving this goal. The current dispensation has set an ambitious target of generating 100 GW of electricity under the National Solar Mission. Despite the fact that the scheme employs innovative solutions like, rooftop solar electricity generation and bundling of solar power with cheaper conventional power in order to reduce tariffs, the mission focuses largely on capacity building for grid-connected projects rather than providing power to those households that are yet to get access to electricity.  Various estimates peg this number to be as high as 300 million persons (Kumarankandath, 2015).

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Lately, there have been some unique initiatives in tapping the variety of options that technology associated solar power brings with it. Ease of transport, installation and decentralised power generation has made solar lamps a viable option. It is an attractive stop-gap solution, especially for remote villages, where laying of infrastructure and grid connections has proven to be a challenge so far. Even in areas affected with Left Wing Extremism (LWE), this is a quick and implementable proposition, one that is cleaner, greener and doesn’t involve any intense investment – financial or manpower. The lamp is, effectively, a small photovoltaic panel connected to a battery that can power a light for about five to six hours. Although not sufficient to provide for all their needs, it produces enough light to allow – the kids to study for a few more hours, the shop to remain open for some more time, the dinner to be consumed in light.

Agreed that it is a short-term solution that can only last till a more sustainable long term arrangement is put in place, and that it comes with its own associated list of problems of durability and being prone to theft; but it also presents a golden opportunity to showcase the intention and benefits of development to those, whose populace have either resisted it for decades or have been left bereft of it. Granted that it may still be awhile before we can claim to have taken the digital revolution to their doorstep, but it does offer the proverbial glimmer of hope and, to put it simply a preview of sorts for the larger transition to follow. A first of many steps, bringing the benefits of power to those deprived of it- an empowerment in its true sense. Access to power (electrical energy) gives you true power (influence or control).

U.Plus Collective, in collaboration with weRsolar, has been spearheading a campaign under the name of ‘Sungram’ whereby it has undertaken the solar electrification of a remote village in Kasara, Maharashtra; electrifying about 150 households through the means of solar lamps. This entire initiative was funded by a unique crowd-sourcing mechanism through both online and offline campaigns to raise funds and awareness for such social infrastructure causes.