Rural Areas Electrified with Renewables
There are almost two billion people around the world without access to grid electricity, a large majority of whom live in rural areas of developing countries. While constructing giant grids to bring power to isolated areas would be costly and inefficient, Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) can meet the energy needs of under-served populations far more cost-effectively, while simultaneously reducing the environmental and health consequences of traditional energy sources. In India, almost 2000 remote villages had been electrified using RETs in 2004, thus reducing the drudgery of women and improving living standards.
Gaining access to reliable electricity is important for people in rural areas. Access to electricity leads to a considerable improvement in living standards and helps people to meet important social needs and to increase their economic productivity and income generating options. The sheer number of people yet to be connected to grid electricity, and the rural isolation of many of these people, poses a major challenge.
Constructing giant grids to bring power to isolated areas would be very costly, and would, in most cases, not be an efficient use of limited capital in developing countries. The use of traditional energy sources can also cause environmental and health damage in many rural areas – with forests being decimated for firewood collection, and bad health resulting from the burning low quality biomass fuels such as wood and dung indoors.
Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) can meet the energy needs of under-served populations cost-effectively while at the same time reducing the environmental and health consequences of existing energy use. Renewable energy systems (such as solar, wind, micro-hydro or biomass power) are easily installed and maintained, and vary in size to suit a community’s specific needs.
Successful government programmes using RETs to electrify rural areas must include inter-related activities in four distinct stages: Determination of suitable pilot locations; Identification of productive uses of energy; Development of comprehensive programme or package; Implementation of the programme and design of mechanisms for replication.
Intensive research and development must be an integral part of any efforts to bring RETs to rural areas, as it is important to assess which technologies will have the greatest effect in particular areas. These programmes must also ensure that rural people themselves are placed at the heart of planning and implementation of RET policies. Local people have the best insights into their own needs and priorities, and rural people themselves should be trained to manufacture and service RETs. This will provide not only a sense of ownership, but also much needed employment opportunities.
The Indian Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy sources has been successful in electrifying many isolated villages through the use of RETs, such as biogas plants. By the end of 2004, almost 2000 remote villages in India had been electrified using RETs – reducing the drudgery of women considerably and improving health and living standards for all.