Walking past by a field at the backyard of the Ranthambore National Park last year, I saw some women were plucking the peas and asked me to taste some of these. There was a strange fencing with 3-4 thin wires stretched vertically, 4-6 inches high from the ground with a gap of 10-15 inches from each other. Before, I could touch these to get to the field, the women screamed, pointing fingers towards a solar panel, about 3 feet away from me -"Madam ji, please don't touch the wires, you may get an electric shock", and they burst into a laughter. Meethi then came up to me and said, our fields are inundated with wild life attack and so we have installed this solar fencing. The fence acts as a deterrent to animals such as wild boars, rabbits and deer. "It doesn't harm them Madam ji", Meethi said, as she offered me a fistful of green peas. “Our incomes have gone up by 30% since then, and together with our neighbouring farmers, we now aggregate our produce to sell to the local Mandi for a better bargain”. I asked Meethi how she has benefitted from this. She replied - "I can sleep now for 6 hours all night. I used to guard the farm earlier, waking up with a headache all day". I couldn't believe such a life is a reality for many women in a remote village of Rajasthan.
The time poverty is real and not considered as a commodity, certainly not amongst the women folks. As per ILO, less than two hours a day after finishing all work (including unpaid care) is considered time poverty. Nearly 57% women are time-poor in developing countries while in the developed nations this figure is 33%. Losing time is a cause for economic loss for women, however, it also results into lack of an opportunity to rest and recoup. Women sometimes forego the time to eat and nourish themselves, in the interest of workload they carry. Physically and mentally weak women are further prone to domestic violence or are not able to break the trap of abusive relationships.
As per NFHS-5 (2019-20) women who have access to electricity are able to cook food safely, have access to clean water and sanitation. They are also more likely to participate in economic activities and have more decision making power at home. Studies find that (Environment and Planning Journal, 2017 and Social Science & Medicine Journal, 2016) the use of appliances and machines reduces time poverty for women by 1 hour and 45 minutes every day. One way of improving the efficiency and effort for women is to aid them with an access to energy.
In India, the Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) or PNG programme is now benefitting about 56.2% of the population, while the Saubhagya Scheme – world’s largest universal electrification programme has made stellar progress by electrifying 97% of rural households. However, as per NFHS-5, nearly 43.3% households continue to use solid biomass as primary fuel for cooking (about 8.9% urban households while 54.6% rural). It is estimated that every second household in rural Bihar, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and even Himachal Pradesh has no access to reliable energy, even when the regions may have been reported as ‘electrified’.
Distributed renewable energy (DRE) systems can be an alternative. For instance, the solar powered fence at Meethi’s farm. The innovative DRE solutions today can provide not just the access to energy but ‘clean and reliable energy’, at the doorstep of people, for cooking, lighting, and other household and economic activities.
However, the DRE solutions can be expensive and this can be a barrier for many families. For the DRE entrepreneurs, the challenges are not just the end-users’ inability to buy and/or the awareness about these, but the DRE markets itself are small and fragmented. Bulk of these solutions reach the end users largely through philanthropy (CSR giving) or subsidized private funding. In case of Meethi too, the solar fence was deployed by a local NGO with the Corporate Social Responsibility (aka CSR/ Philanthropic giving) funding. The Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) estimates that an increased investment of USD 2 billion in 2019 to 18 billion by 2024 will be needed in India to improve the expansion of solar solutions alone – currently of the 175 GW from all renewables, India has earmarked 100GW from the solar and another 40GW from the rooftop and off-grid solar (RTS & OGS). But, there is limited interest from the investors and financers for the commercial and affordable capital, compounded with inadequate policy frameworks.
A credible clean energy transition in India will come only when the ecosystem of DRE is strengthened at all fronts but particularly improving the information asymmetry. A comprehensive approach towards clean energy transition will lead more Meethis to have more time at hand - to rest, to learn and to reach their full potential.
All images provided by the author.
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