Alfred Deakin Research Institute

ADRI-TERI Symposium

Access and Innovation

Arabinda Mishra provides a micro and bottom-up perspective on meeting energy access, equity and needs in a climate change context. He seeks to link energy access to human development index (HDI) measures.

Rural context

  • One quarter of the world's population without (electric) lighting live in rural India.
  • One third of the world's population reliant on biomass fuels live in rural India.
  • High-income states are positively related to HDI and electricity access.
  • The percentage of biomass households for cooking remains unchanged over a decade, while households using electric lighting has increased dramatically (even if only one bulb).
  • Income determines change to electric lighting, while change to cleaner fuels for cooking is 'stickier' (cultural barriers), and causes public health problems.
  • Economic and occupational status determines electricity or kerosene use
  • Pump ownership increases among large landholders
  • Efficient water use assists basic needs and aspirational growth
  • Lack of access to energy services is combined with other problems (lower socio-economic status)

Practical solutions

  • Clean energy use can ameliorate climate change effects through adaptation and mitigation.
  • Adaptation can occur through decentralized energy services - fuel cell technology, independent modular units.
    • PV lighting system of 100 kW solar rooftop capacity saves 50,000 litres of diesel fuel p.a. shift from diesel to solar pumping systems
    • 10kW biomass gasifier mitigates 115 tonnes of CO2 p.a.

Systems problems in application

  • Failure of decentralized energy systems despite legislative recognition and nation-wide programs is due to either non- or partially operational system use.
  • Policy support and community participation are sound, yet elite capture of asset usage, and non-compliance with Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO - mandates that energy utilities use renewable energy technologies).
  • Financiers neither understand nor account for risks in fuel supply chains and technologies.

Systemic solutions

  • Up-scaling decentralized technologies can be met by regulation, finance and infrastructure.
  • More institutional financial incentives towards clean energy funds.
  • India requires a suite of energy options to meet demand. Nuclear energy is nationally owned and run, and should not be singled out.
  • With declining costs, widespread large-scale use of solar PV is imminent and could achieve grid-parity.
  • Biomass cooking can be addressed by public health policy.


MP: Grid reforms reduce energy intake for given output and reduce waste by optimization. Virtual generation by price trading can facilitate wealth distribution to rural villages. Can Indian governance become effective like Hong Kong and Singapore?
AM: State electricity regulators and sector experts emphasize the economic aspects (tariffs, private investment), but experiments in community distribution in some states (ie Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat), particularly in metering and recovery of user payments are providing alternatives. [In these programs] regulators allow community (women's) groups to become franchises. Strong stakeholder participation in grievance process has also enhanced the functionality of utilities. These small innovations have produced dramatic increases in efficient collection in the distribution sector. Governance over regulation capabilties and instruments, can further support these schemes. Stakeholder participation, monitoring and compliance is the weak point.
AK: Utilities do not want to comply if the prices are kept low. So the Government divided supply into commercial and domestic, to address remuneration at economic pricing.
HS: In rural Australia a stand-alone phone in capital cost is cheaper if the grid is extended.
AM: Political slogans such as 'electricity for all' and 'every village connected to the grid' suggest costly grid-extension and maintenance. Yet if community institutions handle energy assets, there is inefficiency due to lack of training and non-integration with other institutions. This leads to non-sustainability in the longer term.
AK: Infrastructure is not supporting energy import.
HS: Remote areas in Australia create increased costs in networks, locking people into the role of the consumer to access the system.
NH: Are there pilot projects where communities can deploy scalability?
AM: TERI's 'Lighting a billion lives' program sets up village PV charging stations which can be rented by and to locals. Those villages with little or no government can access and electrify villages through a PPP entrepreneurial model in collaboration with commercial manufacturers.
MP: Is it economically viable?
AM: Private manufacturers provide subsidies to monitor and maintain PV.
NH: Could this be a solution?
AK: Cannot yet claim this model to be the solution. Electrification through renewable energy of poor villages is not sustained. Some villagers believe that electricity should be free and village electricity groups are not paid, and so electricity supply stops.
SJ: Despite the slogans such as 'educate women you educate the whole family', is there an effort to link energy access programs with social inequalities (gender, education)? Regulations exist but implementation is problematic. Could bank loans be given?
AM: The policy-making side is not accommodating these concerns. Cooking is attributed to socio-cultural factors. Cultural preferences define fuel use. Low priority is given because it is women who are most affected by fuel collection and biomass use in rural kitchens. Awareness creation has a limited effect. Accessible and affordable technology provided by incentives and policy intervention is needed to make the shift. Research to examine the full range of factors that prevent change is also required. The business model for this has improved with corporate integration. TERI and Prof Ramanathan in the US are working to provide clean stoves to rural households where patriarchal society is strongly established (i.e. Uttar Pradesh).
AK: Integrative systemic infrastructure of development and delivery is required.
BC: While the complexity of Indian issues shows how comparatively easy the Australian situation is, there are two points to consider:

    1. energy/electricity = progress

    2. top-down and bottom-up operative dynamics

PH: Ramesh Bathir's World Bank study of rural atrophication and Amulya Reddy's anthropological village studies in the 1970s demonstrate the difficulties in using market mechanisms to incentivise the shift from biomass dependency. While the targets are relatively small, PV lanterns may also create problems (i.e. smoke in the roof as mosquito-repellant). What is the velocity of change in biomass consumption?
AM: Social science researchers must take a systems perspective, while technology developers must embrace social concerns. Interdisciplinary thinking is required to find solutions not only in governance or technology but in understanding village communities which tend to be homogenised. Two polar points define energy access needs: heterogeneous community with thin market linkages, and homogenous community with strong market linkages.
AK: Informed by our fieldwork, our specific product development of clean cooking stoves, PV lanterns and bio-mass gasifiers is focused on user-friendliness, efficiency, and resilience.

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

18th December 2012