Access to Electricity in rural India

How we can we sustain our help for people at the base of the pyramid?

ABB has many community engagement projects – some more successful than others. Often they present interesting dilemmas and consequences that need to me managed.

The ABB Access to Electricity program is one such community engagement initiative. It has facilitated access to modern and clean electricity for over 1,000 households in communities in the remote desert of Rajasthan, India. The project started in 2005 when households in one hamlet were provided with domestic solar systems.

Over the following four years, this was extended to several more sparsely-populated hamlets, covering more than 7,000 people. The initial costs of the Solar Home Systems were shared equally between ABB, the state government of Rajasthan and the villagers.

An impact study carried out in 2007 found that access to a clean and reliable electricity source had significantly improved the lives of the beneficiaries. Electricity largely replaced kerosene as main energy source, leading to improved health and safety for the villagers and the ability to work longer in better light has also increased productivity, helped generate income and led to better education.

The project has now entered a phase in which the original batteries need to be replaced. Based on the findings of the impact study, it was assumed that increased income resulting from access to electricity would allow the villagers to cover the entire cost of maintaining their Solar Home Systems.

However, regular system checks by an ABB engineer and a local NGO have revealed that not all villagers are taking the initiative to replace their deteriorating batteries. In order to ensure the continuity of the project, ABB has decided to provide a small subsidy for beneficiaries who wish to replace their old batteries. So far, around 200 households have taken advantage of this replacement scheme and more are expected to participate as the old batteries gradually fade.

At the same time, ABB is exploring ways for making this project self-sustaining. With the help of a local consultant, ABB recently carried out a study to find out
• What is preventing beneficiaries from replacing their batteries?
• What needs to happen to allow them to cover the costs related to their off-grid electrification needs?
• How can ABB support this process?

From speaking to villagers, it’s clear that while the cost of a new battery represents a significant expense for most households, cost alone does not fully explain the decision of many villagers not to replace their batteries. Lack of access to reliable information (i.e. which battery to buy, where, and at what cost), as well as negative experiences of some villagers who have purchased poor quality batteries at local markets, have also stopped villagers from buying new batteries.

As a next step, we are now looking into the possibility of how the initiative can be institutionalized, more at the village level, to facilitate the beneficiaries’ access to finance, information and technical expertise.

Apart from supporting access to electricity in poor rural communities in India within the framework of ABB’s corporate responsibility activities, we are also interested in exploring business opportunities at the “base of the pyramid”.

About 1.3 billion people still lack any access to electricity, and according to International Energy Agency, investments of $641 billion are required to achieve universal electricity access by 2030 (Source: IEA World Energy Outlook, 2011).

Please use the comments section below to share your thoughts on this topic.  How do you think ABB could meet the electrical power needs of people who are near the “base of the pyramid”, and create a better world for those who need it most?


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About the author

Adam Roscoe

I am the Head of Sustainability Affairs at ABB. In a previous life I trained as a journalist and worked as one for eight years. My interests outside work include cycling, cooking, current affairs, history, Daft Punk and writing.
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