Energy is the cornerstone for every nation’s development. It is the basic need for the survival of rural and urban areas, which is largely driven by efficient energy utilization. However, the consumption patterns in rural and urban areas are quite different. The villages are more vulnerable due to insufficient resources, poor connectivity and the use of traditional energy sources is higher. Even when the government is actively launching initiatives to provide electricity on a national level, nearly one-fifth of India’s rural households (around 31 million) still remain in acute darkness.
In rural areas, electrification is the backbone of the rural economy that also improves the quality of life. Access to energy is not only limited to fulfilling household energy needs. While most urban areas use electricity as the main source of lighting and networking, only half of the rural households in India had access to electricity in 2011.Furthermore, the inadequate or poor supply may negatively impact the mechanization of rural activities such as farming, irrigation, communication network connectivity; smooth functioning of small-scale industries etc. The hampering of these activities due to poor energy supply obstructs economic growth and development of these areas.
Role of government in rural electrification
Universal electrification plays a crucial role in the holistic development of the country. Over the years, it has been a priority for the government to initiate programs and policies that meet the energy needs of rural India. Presently, rural India is standing on the verge of energy transformation. The push for rural India’s electrification started in 2005 with the launch of Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) further accelerating in 2010-2011. The Yojana was later renamed to Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana by the present ruling government. With the constant efforts of the Government of India, the majority of villages have access to power supply; however, many of them still live without power and lack quality of supply.
Considering the energy scenario in India, the central government promised for reliable power supply for all in 2014. According to the estimates shared by the government officials, the promise of electrifying Indian villages has been achieved electrifying over 591,685 out of 597,464 census villages (or 99 per cent). In 2018, it was also reported that in the past four years, the central government has doubled the expenditure on rural electrification to Rs. 24,890 crore. Additionally, over 50.41 lakh rural households were given a free electricity connection, which is five times more than 9.62 lakh connections given in the period of 2013-14.
It is imperative to know that the goal of electrification in the country can only be achieved by efficient and seamless power distribution. In this regard, the Union Government also allocated Rs. 3.05 Lakh Crore for the adequate and smooth distribution of power. As per the Finance Minister of the country, the allocated funds will be released on the basis of the financial performance and viability demonstration by the distribution companies (DISCOMS).
Challenges in rural electrification
Success in rural electrification is not impossible to achieve. However, lack of adequate infrastructure in rural areas is the major obstruction in providing continuous energy supply. Furthermore, the limited availability of properly trained manpower at the district level also impedes electrification work. This is further worsened by the limited availability of equipment and other operational resources that shoots up the cost of electrification, making the entire process inefficient.
The success of rural electrification also becomes difficult due to a major concern of delinking of transmission lines, especially in remote areas. Moreover, the reliability in the supply of electricity also plays a critical role in the electrification of such areas. Presently, the electricity supply in rural households is highly unreliable. Unlike urban areas, rural areas face long and frequent power cuts, affecting the quality of supply. For instance, there was no supply of electricity from 5 pm to 11 pm in the rural villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar during 2016. On the contrary, on an average, Lucknow did not witness any power cuts in the same period.
Ways to mitigate it
The demand for energy is constantly increasing and there has been an urgent requirement for an increased understanding, awareness, and implementation of the latest technologies. This can mitigate the roadblocks in the transmission sector.
Adoption of AI-based technologies
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is resulting in a tremendous transformation of industries across the world and the power sector is no exception. The energy sector faces severe challenges due to the rising demand for power supply, inefficiency, demand pattern and lack of analytics. The acceleration in the adoption of AI-based technologies may have a positive impact on rural electrification. It is projected to play an integral role in providing clean, affordable and reliable energy supply to rural areas. AI works as an enabler of automation. The accelerated use of AI-integrated software can automate human-oriented tasks while bringing more efficiency to rural electrification. Additionally, AI-based technologies can enable optimal management of the grid to ensure quick responses and optimal grid performance.
Integration of technology in electricity assets
The power sector in India is leveraging the integration of technology in rural electrification. There is increased adoption of advanced technologies like an evolved grid system, smart metering, digital asset management. As a result, this will help transform the seemingly conventional, manpower-heavy sector into a smarter and more efficient power system. This will also play a significant role in streamlining the process of developing proper infrastructure for rural electrification. In this regard, the installation of smart metering can benefit rural households by providing real-time information on the usage and wastage of electricity and optimizing the consumption accordingly.
Use of robotics
The power sector faces challenges in meeting the growing demand for electricity in rural India. The biggest concern arising in rural electrification is extensive labour and transportation costs. The use of robotics in power transmission can save huge Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs by automating manual tasks through completely automated robotic systems. This can improve cost efficiency by reducing labour charges and avoiding operational delays and risks. Furthermore, the use of robotics in handling time-consuming and risky tasks helps in maintaining power assets, which further improves the operation. On the other hand, the use of robotics is still at a nascent stage in India; however, it is still undergoing extensive research and development to provide sustainable power resources in rural areas.
Rural areas in India have emerged as one of the primary contributors to the nation’s economic development. Accessing reliable and durable electricity is the need of the hour. For proper rural electrification, power distribution companies (DISCOMs) should emphasize on electrification of not only the households but also small-scale enterprises and non-farming activities. Such customers have constant electricity demand and look for quality power supply to keep their activities going. Many enterprises usually have to use expensive sources of energy such as diesel generators that increase their expenditure and impact their performance and revenue generation.
Another major implication in rural electrification is an improved level of customer service. By improving the reliability and quality of the power supply, the satisfaction of rural customers can be achieved. Consequently, it will enable the customers to focus on more productive tasks and expand their earning potential. Thus, there should be proper planning and implementation of policies to stimulate power demand in rural India.
The author is the Managing Director of Salasar Techno Engineering Ltd.