Given that access to energy plays a significant role in human development, India which accounts for nearly 400 million people without access to electricity or good quality primary energy sources needs to enhance dependence on solar technology and associated products for meeting the rapidly increasing energy demand.
The Human Development Index rankings produced by the United Nations Development Programme show a strong correlation with the per capita energy consumption of nations.
No country with annual electricity consumption of less than 4,000 kWh per person per year has an HDI value of 0.9 or higher. Similarly, no country with consumption of more than 5,000 kWh per person per year has an HDI value lower than 0.8. The correlation suggests that to improve the quality of life and nurture socio-economic growth in developing nations, it is vitally important to ensure that people have adequate access to primary sources of energy, including electricity.
A recently released report that was conceived by the Switzerland-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and written by Madhavan Nampoothiri and Hari Manoharan of RESolve Energy Consultants in India reveals that an estimated 800 million people in Asia live without access to electricity while about 630 million people have limited or no access to electricity in Africa.
The report titled ‘International Trade and Access to Sustainable Energy: Issues and Lessons from Country Experiences’ points towards the huge inequality in electricity consumption that exists across the globe. The per capita consumption in North America is almost 25 times that in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.
“The number of people without access to energy globally is high, and there is a significant bias towards developing nations, particularly India and sub-Saharan Africa. One indicator of the mismatch between developed and developing countries is the amount of energy consumed per capita. It has been estimated that the per capita primary energy consumption in South Asian and African countries is about 17 million BTU per person and 16 million BTU per person, respectively. This is in stark contrast to the 254 million BTU per person and 134 million BTU per person seen in the US and Europe, respectively,” says the report.
According to the report, on a micro level, lack of energy access has a bigger impact on the livelihood of women than that of men. Also, the quality of life for people in rural areas suffers more. In addition, most people with insufficient access to electricity use traditional fossil fuels, particularly kerosene due to the subsidy provided by governments, which in turn has an adverse impact on the health of people leading to significant loss of productivity.
The report focuses on equipment critical to providing access to off-grid sustainable energy through solar off-grid home systems, rural mini-grids and solar lighting appliances.
“Due to highly disbursed centres of demand, solar technology and associated products lend themselves to fulfilling energy demands in regions where it is most needed,” says the report, adding that the various solar products available at present fall into three broad categories – solar portable lights, solar home lighting systems and solar power based mini or micro grids.
The factors that influence the choice of any given product include affordability or cost to consumer and density of population.
The report lists the various bottlenecks that currently impede the rate of uptake for solar products as well as the sector’s growth. Among them are high capital costs, access to finance on both the supply and demand side, market spoilage due to sale and distribution of low-quality products with low durability, lack of awareness with regard to available products, slow rate of policy implementation and also lack of focus of policies to foster growth of a domestic eco system, high import duties and taxes levied on renewable energy-based products and components associated with their manufacture and assembly, difficulties in after-sales service and distribution owing to remote nature of the market and improper implementation of standards.
Stressing that the hurdles plaguing the sector at present are not insurmountable, the report goes on to suggest measures for improving the rate of uptake for solar products. The measures include innovation in business model through the use of ‘pay-as-you-go’ model or rental model to combat high capital costs, access to finance innovation across the value chain, establishment of certification, testing, and standardization centres to ensure that the products sold in the market conform to acceptable standards, awareness creation initiatives, shift in national policy focus toward developing a complete eco system, relaxation in duties and taxes and revision of standardization practices to ensure sufficient room for product customization based on individual consumer preferences without sacrificing quality.