A tool that identifies gaps, makes energy access a reality

An open-source system to identify energy access gaps has been launched in Jharkhand, Assam

By Sapna Gopal
Published: Tuesday 20 September 2022

Despite claims of almost full electrifications of all Indian households, there are several gaps in energy access to critical sectors like health and education. An open access tool that provides data for enhancing acess might be the way forward. 

The Saubhagya initiative has claimed an electrification rate of 99.99 per cent and that only 18,734 households in India are without electricity. However, the quality and reliability of electricity access remain an issue, as does the long-term sustainability of the largely grid-based approach. 

Power for All, which focuses on growing the market for distributed renewable energy  to end energy poverty globally, reveals that energy access in India is 79.2 per cent. However, around 240,000,000 people are still believed to be without electricity access.

Read more: Decentralised renewable energy vital for strengthening Jharkhand's health sector

The World Resources Institute, the global research organisation, launched the Energy Access Explorer (EAE) — an open-source system to ensure that everyone has access to affordable and reliable energy. It was first introduced in the state of Jharkhand in 2021 and more recently in Assam, August 31, 2022. 

The aim behind the EAE was to bring visibility to the areas that need attention, said WRI Director (Energy, India) Bharath Jairaj. 

“Though India claims near 100 per cent household electrification, the healthcare, education and livelihoods sectors continue to remain un-electrified or under-electrified. Moreover, there is also a challenge in terms of the reliability of electricity across many parts of the country,” Jairaj said. 

Secondary data, he added, was combined with satellite imageries, which allows users to follow top-down as well as bottom-up approach to do a multi-criteria analysis. “This multi-criteria analysis allows users to select and change the criteria, thus potentially providing tailored solutions,” he said. 

“We wanted to move energy access gaps from being statistics in tables — so that different users (government agencies, planners and implementors), can identify the areas for energy interventions while also being able to track change over time,” Jairaj added. 

But why were Jharkhand and Assam chosen? 

Only around a third or 37 per cent rural households were electrified in 2017. The number jumped to 98 per cent in 2019, the WRI director said. 

“However, despite this significant improvement, even in 2019, only 54 per cent of the healthcare facilities and 50 per cent of public schools were electrified,” he said. 

This revealed that there is a gap, but also that this is a state keen to enhance energy access and broader socio-economic development, Jairaj added. Assam was similar and was identified because of its strong focus on development.

“It just so happened that Jharkhand’s EAE was launched first and Assam later,” he said. 

Work is now on to develop an additional analysis for prioritising which schools in Ratu (a town in Ranchi) sub-division need to be electrified. The energy demand and renewable energy (solar photovoltaic) system sizes for these schools are also being calculated. 

A collaboration with the Jharkhand State Livelihood Mission on identifying the energy requirement for surface water irrigation under energy-water-food nexus efforts is also on the anvil.  

Read more: Employment in energy sector back to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, finds report

The most significant impacts have been in the health sector, where EAE analysis has helped prioritise 300 un-electrified healthcare facilities best suited for solarisation by the Jharkhand Renewable Development Agency.

Plans are afoot to launch the EAE in one or two more states in Northeast India. “The intent is to have other states and agencies adopt EAE as their platforms and to continue to expand and update it,” the WRI director said. 

This is why EAE was developed as an open source so that it can be customised to different users. Apart from the state level, detailed EAEs have also been developed at the district level, Jairaj said. 

Need for policy changes 

Policies need to be constantly upgraded and updated — working at the state and district levels provides important inputs as to what kinds of changes state or national policies need to ensure the stronger impact on the ground. 

Moreover, since different states are at different stages of development, their priorities may be different and hence policies that are responsive to these priorities are required. 

“One of the main challenges for researchers is data. Not just access to data, but the data often doesn’t exist. That’s where some efforts like Assam’s Data Policy, 2022, can make a difference,” he said.

End of the day, the EAE is a tool, that will help guide decision-makers who are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring socio-economic development in the state and in ensuring the state (and the country) meet the Sustainable Development Goals targets, Jairaj concluded.

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