Great innovations in the energy sector, especially focusing on appliances that are powered by renewable energy have changed the lives of rural India. Starting from the solar freezers to the solar-powered computer labs in schools that power different communities, these innovations illustrate the potential of decentralized renewable energy (DRE) systems in transforming rural India by improving the use of that electricity to boost rural economies. However, initiatives like Ujjwala and Saubhagya have resulted in India accomplishing electrification and cooking. However, quality and reliability of the sources of energy remain an issue. In this situation, the DRE systems have been closing the gap which is critical in ensuring India’s opportunity to make strides the livelihoods and generate economic activity and employment.

According to a recent report, in rural India for the first time, there is a shift in applications in DRE sector moving from energy access for development. Hari Natarajan, a renewable energy expert says that DRE has a solid complementary role to play and effectively promoting DRE solutions such that they become best consumed where it is generated rather than generating several thousands of kilometer away from where there is no demand and then moving them to demand centres. And when you develop such solutions, you are looking to customize them to the local needs bringing in greater efficiency into the system.

In any case, when finance remains a concern, the enterprises are looking at debt as future sources of investment and corporate social responsibility (CSR) and funds. However, DRE applications are boosting the local economy impacting social and economic growth. The emergence of productive-use technologies is freezers, solar dryers, sewing machines, and other applications that have created new ventures and avenues for skill development in rural areas. The conducive policies and affordable financial models will boost the sector and gain consumer acceptance facilitating the growth of the market.

Stronger policies and integrated power distribution systems

The focus of Government on distribution of LPG under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) scheme is making India the second-largest consumer of LPG in the world that has challenged the DRE sector.  The push on clean cooking has uncovered an opportunity for solar-cooking enterprises to grow, especially in the areas which are not deserved or in the cases where consumers are unable to refill LPG barrels.

Gram Oorja, based in Pune, Maharashtra with operations in close to 20 districts over the nation, works on community-driven sustainable energy solutions. It has set up biogas cooking lattices using locally available resources that can give a clean and sustainable source of cooking fuel in remote regions. This has not only diminished the community’s expenditure on firewood and LPG but has also reduced harmful greenhouse gas emanations. Citing another illustration, UNesar, a DRE endeavour in Gujarat, which has developed a solar stove that stores solar power for 72 hours, is cheaper than LPG and helps in severe health issues resulting from household air contamination caused due to cooking.

Alongside stronger policies and integrated power distribution systems, clean cooking, and other schemes to promote solar-powered livelihoods, there is a critical need for comprehensive regulatory mechanisms – testing and benchmarking. This will help increase awareness and acceptance among potential consumers of DRE systems and productive-use appliances.

The report moreover says that although Government initiatives had resulted in 78% of businesses surveyed changing their business models and 57% being able to raise capital, accessing finance continues to be a challenge. Sasmita Patnaik, one of the authors of a CEEW report says “Despite the importance of reliable energy access for the mechanization of rural economic activities, in our interviews with financiers across the board, almost no one placed energy in this context.

In Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha, solar-powered electric reeling machines have permitted women working in silk weaving cooperatives to extend their earnings and diminish drudgery. These machines, created by Resham Sutra, utilize 10% of the control of standard machines and increase efficiency and showcase competitiveness. Bijlee Boqx, a smart solar energy harvester, capacity, and delivery service with a pay as the model gives feasible and reasonable to underserved family units on the outskirts of Mumbai, coming about in financial reserve funds and lessening in CO2 emanations. These advancements offer assistance to customers in already energy-starved districts and this rise in demand has brought about in job creation. A job census by Power for All reported 95,000 new direct formal employments and 210,000 casual employments in 2017-2018.

The DRE segment has immense potential and is offering solutions to assist Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) like ending poverty, promoting wellbeing and health, quality education, conventional work, and financial development, and advancing low-emission, strong improvement pathways. Tending to key issues and challenges can encourage boost the segment and put India on track for its move to clean energy.