Renewable Energy: Driver for India’s rural livelihood programs?

In Aroha Bhawani village of India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state, Siddharth Mishra, a mobile phone shop owner has installed solar PV modules on his shop and is providing lighting services to neighbouring shops with a DC system. Through co-financing, he has been able to pay the high upfront cost of solar PV and is now successfully running a solar lighting business for which he charges a nominal monthly fee from users.

This project, one among several established and upcoming projects in India and countries in South East Asia and Africa, is an example of how renewable energy can be used as a driver for livelihood generation in rural areas.

In remote areas, where electricity access is either non-existent or negligible, new energy sources have the potential to drastically alter opportunities for education, business and other productive work. There are many challenges to such projects, but with a variety of different financing options, subsidies and innovative models for revenue collection, community participation and business development, it is expected that such energy-driven livelihoods generation models will evolve from their current status as individual projects to large scale programmes.

Livelihood generation, which involves a set of economic activities for generation of income or other resources for meeting the requirements of households, agriculture or any other business activity, is by itself not a new concept. There are several successful examples of such initiatives in Indian rural areas, driven by one or two large focal points or drivers such as irrigation, food production, guaranteed employment, milk production, animal husbandry and so on.

Energy for the creation of livelihood opportunities becomes an essential factor regardless of what the focal point of intervention is. Energy is required for water pumping in agriculture, for the operation of machines in small scale industries and micro enterprises and so on. Generally, areas that have good quality and reliable power capitalise on this and create new livelihood opportunities. Therefore, efforts should be made to extend reliable electricity services to off-grid areas so that similar initiatives can be started and scaled up.

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