After four hours of bumpy drive into the hilly areas near Visakhapatnam, India, we reached our destination – an isolated village which was inaccessible by road until two years ago, and remains disconnected to grid power. Yet, utility poles with LED street lights, together with a solar system, are prominently placed across the village of 12 families. We were warmly invited by the village chief to visit his house. Surrounded by a group of villagers, he switched on the television and started describing the changes this solar energy system brought to the village.
The Northern state of Uttar Pradesh was described as dazzling cities surrounded by an inky black sea, in an Economist article titled “Out of the Gloom” in 2013. The vast gap of access to energy in India is symptomatic of the gap between these islands of prosperity amongst seas of paucity (Dreze and Sen, 2013), where conservative estimates suggest that 300 million people do not have access to reliable energy. The Government, at both the Central and State level, is trying to bridge this gap. During the presentation of the annual budget for 2017, the Indian Government has promised complete electrification by 1st May 2018, allocating over 48 billion rupees, or approximately US$ 750 million, towards electrifying rural villages in India.
In contrast to Government-led intervention, in the densely populated states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, a number of ‘Impact Enterprises’ have used market-based solutions to bridge the gap for the ‘Base of the Pyramid’ (BoP) through renewable energy. They range from those that provide lighting products, including Solar Home Systems, to small-scale Direct Current (DC) pico-grids to larger Alternating Current (AC) mini-grids. Each solution is relevant to a different aspect of the energy access ladder.