“Govt must provide an enabling environment to encourage decentralised energy”

“Govt must provide an enabling environment to encourage decentralised energy”
Ms Sarah Butler-Sloss, Founder & Director, Ashden Awards, advocates, “Long-term growth of the decentralised renewable energy sector will only be achieved through providing market-based solutions through the conventional banking and enterprise investment sector”
Could you share your perception on the energy access scenario in India?Some 400 million Indians have never used electric lightbulbs in their homes, nor had the power to charge their mobile phones or listen to the radio, let alone used air-conditioning – things we take for granted in richer countries. The poorest states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa are among the ‘darkest’.
Instead, those without access to the grid use kerosene to light their homes. Its dim light damages eyesight, causes fires and contributes to harmful indoor air pollution that kills 1.6 million women and children a year.  Its dim light makes it difficult for children to study and make progress at school, and for adults to work on income-generating activities in the evening.
Kerosene is also highly toxic and damages health. It releases sulphur and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, both of which are directly linked to lung cancer, eye infections, pneumonia, and chronic lung disease.
Energy access is inextricably linked to economic growth, improved health, better educational outcomes and poverty reduction. None of these goals can be achieved in isolation.
Giving people access to solar power isn’t just good for the planet: it’s also good for business. People have at least four extra hours a day to work in the evening, and with electricity the productivity of businesses can be greatly increased helping boost local economies. Children have light do their homework – so they can do better at school. And avoiding dirty and dangerous kerosene improves health. It’s an all-round win.
Please discuss about the objectives of Ashden Awards.Through the Ashden Awards, we champion some of the world’s best green energy trailblazers then help them accelerate and expand their work through our support programmes. We advocate on behalf of our winners to inspire the wider take-up of clean technologies and alternative business models that make them affordable to all.
Collectively, our winners have transformed the lives of around 33 million people around the world. From solar home systems in India to smoke-free stoves in Ethiopia and low-carbon communities in the UK, we’ve worked with over 140 award-winners whose solutions light the way to a better and more sustainable future for all.
How are you going to mitigate the problems of energy access as far as India is concerned?A major development in helping increase access to sustainable energy in India was the creation of the Ashden India Sustainable Energy Collective in 2010. The Collective consists of 20 former Ashden Award winners and aims to be the voice of sustainable energy in India, to bring its expertise to bear in advocating for the development of a supportive policy and fiscal framework for the sector, and to create supportive community of sustainable energy practitioners who can learn from each other.
It’s very exciting that in the 12 years since the Ashden Awards were established, we have seen more exciting and innovative business models delivering sustainable energy coming out of India than anywhere else in the world – so much so that India is the only country that has created its own organisation made up of former Ashden Award winners. It’s fantastic to see the Collective already acting as a force for change in India.
Are you getting enough support from the Indian government?The government must provide an enabling environment that encourages the growth of decentralised energy. The good news is there are positive signs that this is starting to happen. For example earlier this month the Prime Minister of India himself made public his commitment to support decentralised power at an international seminar on energy access.
Another big leap in the right direction is the Reserve Bank of India’s recent decision to include lending to household renewable energy applications in its priority sector lending criteria. This will have a huge impact on the sector, and it has been achieved in part thanks to the lobbying efforts of Indian Ashden Award winners, which formed the Ashden India Sustainable Energy Collective in 2010.
It would make a big difference if the Small Industrial Development Bank of India (SIDBI) would provide priority status to renewable entrepreneurs.
What sort of funding you are expecting?As far as funding for the sector as a whole is concerned in India, I understand that grant funds are available for only a few demonstration and research projects. Long-term growth of the decentralised renewable energy sector will only be achieved through providing market-based solutions through the conventional banking and enterprise investment sector.
What needed urgently are appropriate financial incentives from the government and appropriate finance from banks and other financial institutions for SMEs in the renewable energy sector to thrive. With a supportive policy and financial environment, India could become a world leader in providing sustainable energy for the poor.
In India, where majority of electricity requirement is being met using coal, what will be your approach in promoting green energy?Coal alone will not power India – as is sorely evident from the lack of reliable grid energy and the millions of people who live without access to electricity.  In the right place many types of decentralised renewable energy, such as solar or biomass gasification, are just as competitive as grid energy and coal, and even cheaper and more reliable in the long-term. The Ashden India Collective focuses on rural electrification where towns, villages and hamlets are too far from the grid to make grid extension financially or practically viable.
This is an exciting time for the sustainable energy sector in India. We will continue to support the Ashden India Sustainable Energy Collective to act as a unified voice for the sustainable energy sector in India. As I said, they are already playing a key advocacy role with the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy and in no small part thanks to this I can see India becoming a global leader in this area.

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