India’s new electrification scheme: Saubhagya

According to various report sources India has a population of about 200-300 million without access to electricity i.e. about 15-20% of the total population. In spite of having various electrification programmes over the years from multiple governments, household level electrification has been a distant dream for many in rural community. This past week, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi made an announcement, yet another electrification scheme, this time targeting household level electrification, Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana  or “Saubhagya” as its popularly referred to.

Will this scheme help India achieve a 100% electrification by December 31,2018? On this episode of ‘Emerging Tech Radio’ I look at India’s long road towards a 100% electrification and the new programme.

Check the full audio episode below

Electrification in India has long been a major talking point both at the national and international level. Power availability has been a major point of concern for long. Only in the last financial year did India turn positive in terms of net energy availability at the national level, however, that has not translated into energy access for all. In terms of village level electrification, India witnessed a strong progress between the census period of 1981-1991 where electrification in villages crossed 50% and reached over 85%. The next couple of decades however saw no progress with less than 7% increase in the electrification status. Incidentally that also happened to be a period where large market reforms were announced in India including in the electricity sector which underwent a period of deregulation. However, since 2011, the electrification drive has gained momentum moving from just over 90% to 99% in recent times.

Since the new Government took office in 2014, India has seen a new range of programmes aimed at rural electrification. In 2015, the Prime Minister made a statement that 18,452 un-electrified villages at that point in time would be electrified in 1000 days. In the last response made to the parliament in July by the then Minister for Power, the no of villages to be electrified stood at 3618. However, the latest update on the interactive online platform GARV that is built to update and track this progress the no has come down to 2952.  The concept of village electrification has been a point of debate for a long time, officially a village is considered electrified if it has basic distribution infrastructure, electricity for public places and 10% of households have access to electricity.

The Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) launched in 2014 has been the pioneering scheme to drive village electrification. In addition to laying wires to village it looks at feeder separation, augmentation and strengthening of rural transmission and distribution network. The plan laid significant emphasis on developing distributed rural micro-grids to cater to remote community electrification.

The focus of the Indian government since last year has steadily turned to household electrification. Even their portal GARV was revamped to provide household level electrification status. The previous target year for household level electrification was 2022 under the 24×7 Power For All proposal which included The Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), launched in 2015 with a budget outlay of 45,000Cr with an emphasis on Power quality and reliability.

The Saubhagya scheme announced by the Prime Minister in the past week has a total budget outlay of 16,320 Crore rupees or 2.5bn$.  The funding has a central and state government component with a major outlay being funded by the central government.  Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) which has been leading India’s electrification initiatives has been chosen as the nodal agency for this scheme. The scheme as the government notes will support both the central and state government achieve power for all objectives by focussing on one of its key component of electricity connection to all.

I tried to invite a director from REC for the podcast show, however since the programme is yet to be formally approved by the CCEA, the Committee for Economic Affairs, there is no concrete roadmap that REC has been given for him to talk about and hence declined to comment on this. However, he did clarify that this programme will run totally in parallel to the DDUGJY programme with a different set of objectives, targets and budget outlays. States are expected to prepare project reports on status on household level electrification before seeking funds under this scheme. He went out to add the DDUGJY programme is well on its way to achieve the objectives of strengthening the rural electricity distribution network. Also, as per a recent parliamentary note by Ministry of Power, the programme has provided over 26mil free electricity connections to below poverty households since launch.

So Whats different in this programme?

A major talking point since the announcement was the mention of independent solar panel with battery systems for remote and inaccessible households. The solar power packs of 200 to 300 Wp with battery bank would comprise of Five LED lights, One DC fan, One DC power plug. It also includes the Repair and Maintenance warranty for 5 years. The primary mode of supply in the programme will still be drawing lines from the nearest distribution point, if not available a pole and line will be installed and only remote locations will be offered the single home systems. The Saubhagya programme will build on the work done under previous programmes by also reaching out to electrified villages and ensuring every household has a power supply.

Does this solve the problem?

As the electrification drive progressed for the last three years under the current central government there were regular updates from the former Power Minister, Piyush Goyal. He had stated the problems faced by agencies in implementing the programme a few times in the parliament. For e.g. nearly a thousand out of the identified 18000 odd villages are uninhabited.  This points to a gap in the existing benchmark for this data, which happens to be last census in 2011. People in these villages could have migrated since then. The second problem happens to be the actual remoteness of the village, its terrain or other issues including naxal affected areas. Apart from the infrastructure issues like right of way and forest land clearances etc. the other major factor was, deciding who gets the subsidy under the programme.

The new Saubhagya scheme will probably remove the hurdles of infrastructure development through the offgrid systems but issue of subsidy will remain.  The scheme guarantees free electricity connection for all under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) status as per the 2011 census. Families who are not covered under the scheme can still be eligible for the programme benefits by paying 500 Rs which is recovered in instalments spread over 10 months. Just to clarify, the ministry has subsequently released a note saying energy consumed will be billed as per local state tariffs, only the installation and setup costs will be waived off which is a significant cost to reach the last mile electricity consumer. The plan also proposes to have a comprehensive review mechanism to track status of each household who receive benefits.

How is the new announcement perceived?

As per the official statistics, nearly 40 million households are yet to be electrified. The 1600 Cr proposal would equate to a 4000 spend per household approximately for electrification.

The Saubhagya scheme intends  to plug existing gaps and comprehensively address the issues of entry barrier, last mile connectivity and access to electricity connections to all un-electrified households in rural and urban areas. At the moment the industry view on this is divided right in the middle with a few who believe the programme has the specifics to fill the gap and connect the last mile consumer and a few others who term this programme as a lack in aspiration by moving away from the concept of micro-girds that have been providing reliable power supply in remote locations to switching to a single-panel battery system that serves a light and mobile charging unit. Not to forget, there are instances where even an electrified village receives less than 12hrs of supply every day with poor quality being a major issue.

I had a quick chat with Dr Rahul Walawalkar and this is what he had to say in the podcast about the MICRO initiative.

Finally, at this moment I feel it is tough to be highly critical of the programme, only time will tell if it is going to be a success. I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be a check-box solution, where a scheme was formulated just to make sure India ticked the box of 100% electrification. Power has to be seen as economic enabler for the rural community. It’s high time, India moves away from a check-box mentality and offers reliable power solutions for all.

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EESL: The procurer for masses

Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) could come across as yet another government initiative that is unrelenting in its pursuit of energy efficiency and EESL has managed to do that in the past few years but through a radical step. The drop in LED bulb prices (7W/9W) in the last few years is hard to be missed although the reason behind the drop goes unnoticed at times.  After setting a precedence or claiming to have set one, EESL has geared up on the next big vision of its former Minister Piyush Goyal, ‘Electrification of Indian transport by 2030’.

UJALA

Unnat Jeevan by Affordable LEDs for All (UJALA) scheme previously called Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme (DELP) has been funded by KfW, AFD and ADB in procuring LEDs for large scale distribution through local utilities across states. As of Sept. 2017 it claims to have distributed over 260million LEDs leading to a cost saving of over 13,000 Cr per year with an avoided peak demand of over 7GW (Dashboard).

How did it happen?

The price of LEDs have come down significantly, a 7W LED in 2014 costed INR 310 which in 2017 is less than INR 70 and even the retail prices for 9W LED is less than INR 100. The quality of the bulbs is always debated but EESL offers free replacement for the faulty ones (3yr window) and claims to have a fault rate of less than 1%. A few experts however feel the lumens from EESL LED is low.  Although the procurement practices have been questioned by the opposition, EESL claims to have endorsements from its funding agencies for its procurement which is completely transparent through a eprocurement platform(Read an IEA report on the same).

 

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Large scale public procurement has been a success across countries as the bulk procurement through demand aggregation has proved to decrease cost by close to 20%. In EESL case, the LED drive has achieved over 70% cost reduction.

Make in India

One of the key successes of the EESL has been the emphasis on Make in India. It has transformed the Indian LED industry that was manufacturing 1-2 Lakh LEDs a month to now produce 3-4 Crore LEDs/month in a span of just three years. As on today, all LEDs procured for domestic lighting, public street lighting procured by EESL are manufactured in India.

Electric Vehicles

EESL taking up the procurement of Electric Vehicles (EV) and Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) is not without a reason. The cost of EVs, batteries are high and there is negligible manufacturing in the country in this sector. The subsidies through FAME have been flowing for the last few years but the supply and demand has not scaled up. If large scale procurement of EVs in China especially in public transportation is anything to go by, India can hope to replicate it or kick start EV and battery manufacturing in India.

EESL1

In between LED procurement and the foray into EVs, EESL has tested waters and found success in lighting/appliances procurement (tube lights, fans and ACs), it has also procured energy efficient solar pumps in large scale and distributed to state DISCOMs. It has also bought solar modules in bulk quantities and supplied to projects undertaken by public sector corporations. Building on its success, it has also floated tenders for procurement of LEDs for UK and Malaysia right out of India since 2017. Just a few weeks before the release of tenders for EV, EEESL also floated a tender for procurement of 5 million smart meters for utilities in  Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, two states with the largest power theft/loss.

The national EV policy is yet to be finalised and so is the specifications for charging infrastructure, ‘Bharat Charger‘; EESL however has indicated its ambitious procurement target early on giving the industry a big wake up call to what is likely to happen. The 10,000 sedan programme aims to procure 10,000 vehicles in the medium term with the first order accounting for 1000 of them to be supplied in Delhi/NCR. Similarly 400 EV charging stations are to be setup in Delhi/NCR region out of the 4000 targeted between 2017-2019. Currently, the specifications of the sedan match Mahindra eVerito the lone EV sedan manufactured in India. In addition to these, EESL has also floated an expression of interest inviting industry to procure and lease E-auto rickshaws through app based model without batteries. It hopes to separate batteries out of these vehicles to keep the costs low ( public buses to follow in the long run). It will in all likelihood setup an energy business offering swappable batteries for e-rickshaws and then public buses (?).

The tenders are yet to be awarded but even at the nascent stage the intent of EESL is quite clear. The short successful track record will give companies a confidence in its procurement policies. Since the potential off-takers in this business have already expressed interest, the plan should see a smooth roll out of EVs by the start of 2018. However, the success of this mission of EESL should be gauged on how much of local manufacturing it is able to generate for EV, EVSE and batteries in India. Nevertheless, EESL through its vision (Ministry of Power’s) and action is turning out to be the ‘The procurer for masses’. Only time will tell if they can sustain the same momentum with a new minister at the helm.

About EESL

EESL was incorporated as. Joint Venture of 4 CPSUs of Ministry of Power NTPC, PGCIL, REC and PFC and is under the administrative control of Ministry of Power, Government of India since 2015.

Economic Survey: Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Energy

Electricity is one the key sectors of the Indian economy and with the emergence of non-fossil power plants unsettling the traditional businesses it was high time to have a comprehensive take on the subject, the recent economic survey tries to do just that. A chapter aptly titled ‘Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Energy’  is a clear indication that the electricity sector today has wider impact on the people than portrayed by the phrase ‘Bijli, Sadak, Pani‘ (Electricity, Road, Water).

Climate Change

The chapter on economic survey clearly brings out the Govt.’s objective to stick to its commitment to the Paris Agreement (Read more on India’s climate commitment). The chief economist goes on to say India will stick to its stand irrespective of what happens with the US’s stance on climate change.

Sustainable Development

Its been over two years since UN released its objectives for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Know more about SDGs) and India has produced the first review of the goals. As expected the emphasis is on SDG 7, “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Incidentally, SDGs also have 2030 as the target year like the Paris Agreement.

Energy

The narrative of the chapter is quite clear right from the start, justify the need to transition to Renewable Energy (RE) alternatives by stressing the benefits of climate change and sustainable development. A detailed analysis on the costs of energy and net benefits have been studied and presented in the study. A few of the analysis have been spot on like the one on anticipated RE penetration by 2027, a 43% of the grid total and getting better of coal.

RECoal

Solar Power

The past year has been a clear indication that rapid deployment of solar power is possible with declining costs (highlighted below). (Solar bids: No more outliers)

Solar

The survey interestingly points out to the key factor that determines if a solar power development is really sustainable. I’m glad to be proved right, that the development costs of solar power is high considering land use is impacted especially if the plants are performing below their efficiencies (Read more: Is Solar Power Development Sustainable?) Survey points out the land requirement for solar is 10 times the requirement for coal plants, clearly a loss of opportunity cost.

Need explanation: Social costs

As a surprise, in what looks to be a clear approach to show the net benefits of RE switch is not significant as thought, the economic survey throws up an analysis that points social costs of Renewables is three times that of coal but reduces as we progress to 2030.

SocialCosts

Similarly an explanation is needed to justify the lack of accounting of actual costs of stranded assets in thermal power plants while the same has been well accounted for renewables. If there is a valid justification, calculations have to be made public for debate.

SocialCosts1

Subsidies

It is understandable that subsidies for RE have been high in the past and wind accounted for a major chunk considering the Generation Based Incentives (GBI) were in place until March 2017. How are the budget estimates for 2017-18 FY expected to be close to last year when the major financial incentive of GBI has been waived off? There have been no known policy announcement that can justify this estimate.

Subsidies

National Clean Energy and Environment Fund (NCEEF)

A topic that needs further debate considering that the new proposal of  Govt. is to use this fund for compensating states for the loss of revenues from GST implementation. I had earlier pointed out NCEEF allocation had to be re-looked considering its objectives (NCEEF: A review). The survey points out the NCEEF has been under utilized, no projects have been recommended by Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) to be funded from this corpus for the past two years.

NCEF

Overall, summaries from a few analysis are highly debatable especially related to social costs of renewable energy. But, the Economic Survey brings out the major topics for discussion in the public domain, a clear indication that the government is actively pursuing these policy objectives. The chief economist has promised to release all the data pertaining to the economic survey in public domain in due course and I’m looking forward to it.

On a personal note, I’m glad that a chapter in Economic Survey talks about Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Energy in the same breadth, the very topics I have been writing about in my website.