Mini-grids for the bottom billion for a sustainable rural living: What does the Gram Oorja experience suggest?




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Peer reviewed



Clean energy access is the golden thread that runs through economic prosperity, social development and living within environmental limits. For the bottom billion, however, lack of access to clean energy sources creates a vicious circle of poverty, poor health, limited human capital and the degraded environment. Electricity provision through local renewable-based mini-grids has been suggested by international organisations and researchers as a possible solution to turn this into a virtuous circle. In recent years, many mini-grids have been set up around the world but there has been limited evidence demonstrating whether these services are sustainable over extended periods of time and whether they are able to catalyse improved rural living in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. Using data collected from 24 solar mini-grid interventions by Gram Oorja, an Indian social enterprise, we analyse whether these systems are able to offer clean and long-lasting sustainable electricity solutions for the bottom billion, and whether access to electricity really transforms rural living conditions. We use a multi- dimensional sustainability analysis framework that captures both qualitative and quantitative information across many areas. We then identify enabling conditions, barriers and possible interventions to support sustainable rural communities. We find that good quality and durable electricity provision through mini-grids generates positive socio-economic externalities but that electricity supply on its own is not a sufficient condition for delivering the rural transformation agenda. This requires embedding electricity access interventions in an integrated rural development programme, that offers opportunities for livelihood generation, linkages for delivering other basic amenities and strengthening of niche areas (such as circular economy) to support sustainable living. Lack of proper vision, weak institutional arrangements, poor coordination, limited experience at the local level and inadequate handholding are some of the factors affecting the transformative change. A judicious balance between top-down and bottom-up interventions will be required to bring about this change. The study has wider relevance for billions of people at the base of the pyramid. Mini-grids offer them an opportunity to move up the development ladder but it requires developing locally relevant linkages through co-creation.




Bhattacharyya, S., Katre, A. and Tozzi, A. (2018) Mini-grids for the bottom billion for a sustainable rural living: What does the Gram Oorja experience suggest? Paper presented at Sustainability and Development Conference held on November 9-11, 2018, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.hosted by the University of Michigan.


Research Institute

Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD)