As of 2017, 1.3 billion people around the world do not have access to electricity. Of those, 290 million men, women, and children are in India, unable to power their homes, livelihoods, and their dreams.
Access to energy is a critical first step in powering basic needs such as clean water, securing food, access to health services, and sufficient lighting that enables learning and safety after dark. Just as important, insufficient and unreliable electricity also stands in the way of fulfilling economic potential: without energy, farms cannot produce as much yield, food spoils, small businesses cannot run, and village economies cannot thrive. As you read this right now on your screen, ask yourself: What powers your day?
Since 2010, The Rockefeller Foundation has made “energy poverty” their priority with the launch of a program called Smart Power for Rural Development, a $75 million initiative aimed at bringing reliable electricity to energy-poor villages and hamlets that might otherwise have to wait years for power to arrive. As of 2017, more than half of households in rural India have little to no access to electricity. Here’s how Smart Power plans to empower millions of Indians to seize their economic potential.
There’s more to electricity than having easy access to lighting. Because so many Indians in rural villages are without power, local businesses get hit with a multitude of problems that affect employees, customers, and the economy. Consider this: Tribal women have to hull pounds of rice under the heat of the sun, while seamstresses sew garments by hand during the daytime or under the harsh light of kerosene by night. This results in fewer quality products for customers, health problems for laborers, and not enough income for families to break out of poverty.
Even food security can be threatened without electricity: Forty percent of India’s fruits and vegetables spoil because there is not enough electricity for refrigeration. The cold bottles of water we take for granted on hot summer days is unheard of in Indian villages where temperatures are consistently above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for months.
For those in countries like the United States, the U.K., or Australia, working into the night is common practice — in India, a sunset means the end of the work day. Without access to electricity, workers are unable to continue cooking, sewing, or teaching, thus drastically reducing the amount of products they make on any given day.
The Rockefeller Foundation tells the story of a gas station owner who had to rely on three diesel generators because he didn’t have access to a reliable source of electricity — a costly solution for both him and the environment.
To combat this, Smart Power has developed an innovative renewables-based mini-grid ecosystem that supplies electricity to households, businesses, schools, and other organizations. Smart Power also works with communities and village enterprises to help them optimize their use of electricity so that they can realize the transformative power of energy.
By working in villages where fewer than 10 percent of households are connected to the national grid, millions are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Financially, Smart Power has made a significant impact on rural villagers who previously lived their lives in the dark. Since the kickoff of the Smart Power initiative, half of lower income families have acquired LED light bulbs for the first time, while those in a higher economic bracket have gotten appliances like refrigerators and fans.
It’s the small businesses that have especially benefited from Smart Power; micro-enterprises have expanded their business models to include newer appliances, while others have started offering computer-based classes. The rice hullers are now processing grains through equipment, the seamstresses use sewing machines, and one community has invested behind a cold storage facility that’s keeping their produce fresh for the market longer. People are making more money, gaining more skills, and continuing the workday into night.
Along with this lifestyle change, businesses benefiting from Smart Power have seen a 13 percent increase in monthly revenue, and Smart Power villages have seen an increase of $18.50 of GDP+, a calculation based on the social, economic, and environmental gains of access to electricity
Not only are businesses flourishing, but schools are finding the benefits of electricity to be plentiful as well: Students now have the means to study during the nighttime hours and don’t have to strain their eyes while reading against kerosene lanterns or other light sources. In fact, there’s been a 71 percent decrease in the use of kerosene overall, allowing 87 percent of children to study longer under better conditions after sunset.
India isn’t the only country experiencing energy poverty. The Smart Power model for rural electrification can be applied to places like Africa and Asia, where more than 90 percent of the world’s energy poor reside.
We need to spark a revolution in energy transformation — something that will involve many players doing many parts. Ending worldwide energy poverty will prove to be a massive challenge, but will ultimately give those without electricity the chance to break out from the cycle of poverty.
For an in-depth look at how electrification can change the lives of those living in energy poverty-stricken regions, check out this VR film to get a unique view.
The Rockefeller Foundation, Pixabay