Monday, 5 March 2012

Electricity services for Indian mountains

"The sheer logistics of erecting and maintaining poles and wires, and transporting fossil fuels over some of the highest ranges in the world prove that the conditions prevailing in the region are not conducive to macro solutions"
This is an excerpt pulled out from the website of Avani, an organisation promoting micro renewables in the state of Uttarakhand (a hill state of India). These lines very clearly and aptly define the electricity access problems of this state and several other parts of India. So what's the solution?
Avani has come up with some innovative ideas to solve this problem of electricity access in the mountainous villages of Uttarakhand. They have been involved in dissemination of solar technology in the remote villages of Kumaon. According to their website, they have managed to reach 1,470 families in almost 210 hamlets and villages, out of which 25 villages have been electrified intensively (60 to 100%).


However, as we all know, just dissemination of equipment is not enough. Without proper operation and maintenance service renewable energy equipment often go out of service after a few years. Focusing on this aspect of the provision chain, Avani is training rural youth to assemble, repair and maintain solar units. This according to them has created a reliable maintenance network increasing the acceptance of the technology. The villagers are paying the salaries of these technicians. They also generate income through assembly and sale of solar lanterns and home lighting system. Avani has also established a rural electronic workshops doubling as a training centre for the technicians. The workshops provide necessary support to the villages by providing spare parts and repair services. To finance all this, Avani has encouraged villagers to collect and maintain village level maintenance funds (by village committees) for maintenance and replacement of equipment by users.


By focusing on the complete supply chain (supply, service and finance), Avani seems to have taken up the provision of solar energy in a holistic manner. This certainly strengthens the sustainability of the provision model.
Taking its aim of electricity access further, Avani now seems to be diversifying to other technologies. Recently it has installed a pine needle base gasification system to produce electricity. With this they plan to set up village level gasification systems to introduce another solution for electricity access in the area. For this effort they have been picked for the Grand Finale of Spark the Rise competition.
Avani seems to be adopting the correct approach by formulating an integrated service offering.  It also seems to have been successful in involving the local community in planning and maintenance of the projects. Also, appropriate jobs and skills seem to have been created in the local community due to Avani's efforts.
However, its models seem to focus on lighting services. Direct income generation does not seem to be the target and hence payment of capital cost for solar lanterns and home lighting systems seems to be difficult for the marginal rural households. Having said that, if Avani's new model of biomass gasification works on pay for service model, it may become easier for the marginal families to get electricity services (having saved the burden of capital cost).

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