Its the Energy Paradigm Stupid: Equity and Development in Rural India

I read articles and research oriented works on Energy Governance in Grad School where i took courses on Environmental Policy. Prof. Benjamin Sovacool’s course at LKYSPP@NUS in Sustainability has had a profound impact in the manner i visualize energy poverty and its impact on human development landscape. That was the text book version of Professor Tourists heading out in to the field for understanding the cultural notions of energy technology. Dr. Sovacool and Anthony D’Augustino (currently a PhD Student at Columbia SIPA) wrote a working paper on Solar based lighting in Papua New Guinea was fascinating. Both are inspirational folks at a personal level.

I had my brush with the Renewable Energy- Rural Setting- Energy Poverty nexus recently as I visited the Rayalseema region in Andhra Pradesh in Southern India. This arid, dry region better renowned for pilgrim town Puttaparthi and is recent convert to alternative energy through wind farms as this is a region with high wind potential. Reigning paradoxes prevail in this area, with excellent road connectivity with national and state level highways with access to a knowledge economy hub such as Bangalore in three hours.  I would observe bullock carts plying people and motorbikes ferrying both goats and homo sapiens. Traditional homes which have DTH boxes and livestock, and one of the local level political leaders had even a treadmill at his place.  But this region primarily depends on rain fed agriculture, is low on water potential and agriculture is mainly single crop.  Some months of the year, the local folk work as construction labor.  The crux of the problem with everything is the lack of power, with electricity only there for six hours a day.  Without Power, there is economic darkness and all development depends on energy access.

Wind Energy has potential to transform the region by creating employment and providing access to badly needed electricity. But a government policy driven sector such as alternate energy is not well served by a senior statesman who is more interested in urdu poetry and golf than negotiating hard with the finance ministry for proactive measures. Political gridlocks have resulted in wind energy dipping in profitability. The Suzlons of the world are steeped in debt.

Then there are local challenges such as political interference due to land acquisition matters.  Politicians simply cannot understand the developmental agenda buy-in being created by alternate energy. Feed in Tariffs cannot be a panacea; but it will go a long away, towards lighting up lives.

Atleast in this sector, good politics would mean good economics. Gujarat and Tamil Nadu politicos have understood the dividend.

Let the ‘winds’ of change blow.

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