Bihar — In rural India, only 55 percent of households have access to electricity. The Rockefeller Foundation aims to connect these underserved citizens to sustainable energy sources through their Smart Power For Rural Development initiative. By widening the availability of electricity in India, The Rockefeller Foundation will create new economic opportunities for poor, rural communities.
Globally, 1.2 billion people – including 237 million people in India – have limited or no access to electricity. Even areas classified as “electrified” still have large numbers of individual households that live without service. Additionally, existing electricity connections to poor, rural villages are often low-quality and unreliable. In rural Indian communities, energy is often generated with diesel power, which negatively impacts the health of residents and the environment.
Smart Power For Rural Development is a $75 million initiative started by The Rockefeller Foundation in 2015 to combat energy poverty in rural India. The Rockefeller Foundation established a local partner, Smart Power India, to engage with Indian energy companies and government officials. Smart Power India connects energy service providers, government officials and private sector enterprises to expand electricity in India to underserved rural areas.
The initiative incentivizes local energy service companies to enter rural markets by supporting business development and acting as a facilitator between providers and investors. The program also promotes electricity services to rural communities to build large customer bases for expanding companies. Smart Power India also discusses policy with local and national government to align public and private interests. Fortunately, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have prioritized expanding 24/7 electricity to all of the country’s citizens.
The public-private partnership focuses on decentralized renewable energy (DRE) provided by mini-grids. DRE mini-grids can be built quickly, use clean solar or biomass energy and can power whole communities.
Smart Power For Rural Development focuses on electrifying Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, where over 90 percent of rural households are excluded from the national power grid. Currently, in India, seven energy service companies operate 106 power plants that help over 40,300 people in more than 100 villages. Eighty-one percent of the power plants operate with solar energy while 19 percent operate with biomass energy.
Expanding access to electricity in India stimulates economic opportunity for local entrepreneurs and workers. Irrigation practices become more streamlined and less expensive. Farmers and bakers can now refrigerate their products, thereby increasing their inventory. Businesses can open earlier and close later.
The initiative has already successfully spurred economic growth in India. According to The Rockefeller Foundation, micro-enterprises connected to Smart Power grids experienced, on average, a 13 percent increase in monthly revenues. Rural consumers in newly connected towns raised their local economy by $18.50 per capita.
The Rockefeller Foundation plans to connect 1,000 rural Indian communities with sustainable energy. With their Smart Power For Rural Development initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation is working toward Sustainable Development Goal 7 – affordable and clean energy for everyone.
– Katherine Parks