Sustainable Energy and Poverty Reduction: Chance for India to take leadership !
Many of us do not understand the connection between diffusion of renewable energy and poverty reduction. The common notion is that renewable energy is expensive and thus to provide the poor with immediate access to energy, nuclear and coal are the only options. This is an extremely naive thought process and they are financially and socially unsustainable.
The Copenhagen talks showed us how divided the world is and how the power structure has moved away from the Europeans and the Americans. India and China dominated the proceedings but with very few end results.
Today, we in India, defend our coal and nuclear strategies by citing that there are more than 500 million people without electricity. Let us take a pause and dig deeper here. Many of the expansions in terms of power sector will go towards providing energy to industries and urban cities, that too in a highly inefficient manner. Yes, while I agree that development via industries need to take place, it is also true that we are absolutely not pragmatic about the solutions when it comes to the poorer population of our nation. Providing basic services like lighting and clean cooking fuel have their own challenges and cannot be solved by centralised options like coal and nuclear: as the barriers are different.
India is a paradox – mix between a highly developed country and very developed country. It hosts not only some of the richest individuals in the world but also the world’s poorest. Most of the poor in the world who do not have access to electricity live in India. Here is where India can take the leadership!
The next generation of sustainable business models, need for need based technological innovations, social enterprises, social changes in behavior will come from the 3+ billion poor people living across the continents of Asia, Latin America and Africa. And many of the parameters mentioned will have to depend directly or indirectly on decentralised sustainable energies like solar, small wind, micro-hydro, biomass etc.
India has developed and has access to various decentralised technologies mentioned above. On the other hand, India also has 500 million people who are in need of these technologies today and it is not correct to keep banking on their patience while rest of us take our sweet time to decide on the basis of just pure (and unfair) economics of how to reach out to them. India, unlike other developing countries, has a fantastic network of rural financial institutions. These financial institutions were responsible for India to become self sufficient in food and now, can’t we utilize the same network to make India self sufficient in energy?
The poor are poor because they have lack/no access to reliable energy services. They have to rely on dirty fuels like kerosene for their meager lighting needs. The poor for centuries have depended on inefficient energy.
India using its existing technology base, highly vibrant rural entrepreneurial spirit, huge and stable finance network can be the leader for creating many innovative models, utilising sustainable energy services to eradicate poverty. These models can then be replicated in other parts of Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America. No other country has all the parameters needed to create sustainable models – a chance for India to be a leader in creating a world that is truly sustainable.