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Development practitioners come together to solve challenges around implementation and scaling up of clean energy solutions

Bangalore: On 5th November, the World Resources Institute India (WRI India) organized the “Energy for Development” conference in Bangalore to bring together civil society organizations, development institutions, energy enterprises, government agencies and investors working to improve access to reliable, affordable and sustainable sources of electricity to improve development outcomes. Despite India rapidly moving towards 100% electricity connections at household level, many service delivery institutions across the country continue to operate in the dark. Lack of a reliable supply has implications on quality healthcare and education services and livelihood opportunities. WRI has been working health, education and livelihood stakeholders in the energy poor states to identify the challenges and to help them get access to reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity sources from clean energy solutions. On 5th November, doctors, administrative heads, energy practitioners, government officials and investors brainstormed on the topic -- ‘how can some of the clean energy solutions be introduced in the remotest of areas and what are the scale up strategies?’

To set the context, a panel of service delivery institutions shared their experiences regarding the current scenario and emphasized that “electricity should be available when needed”. Senior doctors and staff from Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand, Burrows Memorial Christian Hospital and Makunda Christian Leprosy & General Hospital in Assam, PanIIT Alumni Reach for India (PARFI) stressed on the need for a reliable connection to run their equipment and provide safety and comfort. World Vision India, which works closely with the government also observed that initiatives must be taken to ensure 24X7 reliable power in government health centres and child care centres or ‘anganwaadis’. Given this situation, some of the experts have attempted to implement clean energy solutions but faced challenges such as a lack of finance, difficulty accessing policies, lack of data and technological concerns.

Despite these challenges, development organizations like Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) have managed to raise funds to solarize 200+ health centres across India. Similarly, Seven Sisters Development Assistance (SESTA) in Assam is working towards the implementation of renewable energy technology for improving livelihood opportunities. Centre for microfinance (CmF) in Rajasthan has had to consider other challenges like ground water availability while planning for solar water pumps. Such experiences provided other organisations present with key insights on overcoming some of the challenges that emerge, while identifying and implementing clean energy solutions for improving the services.

The second half of the day focussed on discussing how to access finance and data and how to understand technology and policies in the context of service delivery institutions. Data experts from WRI and Power For All emphasized the need to improve data quality and availability. WRI India presented on its Energy Access Explorer platform which captures data on socio-economic indicators, energy demand and supply to guide the decision-making for developing policies, and identify investment areas and market opportunities for clean energy solutions. Power for All’s Platform for Energy Access Knowledge (PEAK) is a collaborative effort to bring data stakeholders together for enhancing energy access.

The finance panel focussed on how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and public finance can improve access to electricity. Given that the not-for-profit sector in India has an integral role to play in terms of delivering health, education and livelihood services alongside the government, organizations like TIDE agreed that CSR funds are key to unlock some of these investments. Further, organizations like Landmark Group and Schneider Electric shared their CSR investment philosophy and identified potential areas in energy access that CSR funding can support. This includes piloting innovations in DRE business models. The Ministry of Finance representative provided inputs on how public finance can support private investments in the sector.

The technology session comprised of technology providers working in remote areas, sharing their experience of solving access-related challenges. EcoSoch Solar, Vision Mechatronics, Gram Oorja Solutions and Desire Energy Solution agreed on more customized solutions for needs specific to the service delivery provider and ensuring immediate services post-installation. Specific technologies were discussed in the context of the challenges shared by development experts. At present, technologies that can operate under harsh climatic conditions, that can be installed in limited spaces and can recharge with limited hours of grid availability are slowly being introduced and tested in the market.

Data, finance and technology can work if there is an enabling policy environment. Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), Assam Energy Development Agency (AEDA), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) team in Jharkhand and WRI experts brainstormed on how different government departments might engage with each other to integrate energy into health, education and livelihood development plans and vice versa. Participants agreed that data, finance, technology and policy have to work in tandem in order to create solutions that are applicable in the context of service delivery organizations. A blanket approach of one solution fits all will not work for the hospitals or the training institutes operating in the hinterlands of the country. Moreover, vendors, policy makers and financing agencies have to be cognizant of this as they aim to contribute towards bridging the gap.

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