As of 2010, more than 300 million people in India lacked access to electricity. 94% of this un‐electrified population lives in rural areas. Even after multiple focused programs on rural electrification in India, close to 100,000 villages still have no access to electricity. The major focus of rural electrification has been on the extension of centralized grid to un-electrified locations. But some of the villages and hamlets are extremely remote and sparsely populated, and it is either not feasible or economically unviable to electrify these areas through the centralized grid. In the recent past, decentralized electrification has emerged as a viable alternative to electrify such areas.
Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has identified around 20,000 villages and hamlets which can be effectively electrified through decentralized electrification approach. In last 10 years a number of off-grid electrification projects have been implemented across rural areas in India, by both public sector and private developers. But not all of these projects have stood the test of time. Studies indicate that more than 20% of the commissioned projects are not operational.
With the aim to identify and understand reasons for success or failure of these projects, I assessed existing case studies of a number of projects and programs. I have supplemented this with unstructured interviews of multiple stakeholders involved in off-grid rural electrification. The learnings from past projects and the literature are then utilized to develop a decision making framework to assist planning of future off-grid projects.
The framework incorporates a number of factors with technical, economic, social, environmental, policy and regulatory aspects. It addresses the interdependency of these factors and specifically supports the iterative nature of effective decision making. It aims to enhance the understanding of developers and planners regarding the highly complex nature of decision making required to successfully tackle the sustainability challenges associated with off-grid electrification projects.
Currently, due to limited success of off-grid projects in India, decentralized electrification is perceived as an ad-hoc solution, as evident from current policy scenario. It is envisaged that improvement in the success rate of these projects as a result of implementing the proposed framework, will enhance the confidence of policy makers in decentralized electrification as a long term sustainable solution. If the improved confidence levels are translated into political support, this will potentially enhance the adoption of off-grid electrification for suitable areas, improving the overall electricity access in the country.