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Dark villages, smart cities

EM news bureau ,  Wednesday, September 23, 2015, 14:06 Hrs  [IST]

In his Independence Day speech this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revisited the subject of village electrification. India can never consider itself developed if its villages are in a state of inadequacy. Only when villages have basic facilities like clean drinking water, sanitation, houses, electricity, roads, primary health and primary education can India be rightfully proud of its urban-centric achievements.

It is estimated that 18,500 villages yet do not have an electricity connection. Considering that there are 6.3 lakh villages totally, there is a shortcoming of little under 3 per cent. It is very famously observed that 95 per cent of any project is achieved in 5 per cent of the total time with the remaining 5 per cent of the task consuming 95 per cent. This is so strikingly true of village electrification. Left to itself, electrifying 18,500 villages would take 10 more years, as observed very insightfully by the Prime Minister. The PM’s promise of providing electricity to these 18,500 villages in the next 1,000 days therefore reflects grit and determination.

Wiring a rural household is a simple task as there would be only a few humble loads like lamps and fans. However, reaching an electricity connection to a remote village is perhaps the toughest of jobs. It is not justifiable as a business proposition but needs to be done as a national objective. A few years ago, a tiny village in Madhya Pradesh, housing just 20-odd families, received its first electricity connection. The challenges in reaching electric wires to the villages were enormous as they had to pass through several kilometers of thick forest cover with environmental clearance itself taking up years. This is just a typical example of how arduous matters can get when it comes to lighting up India’s villages. In this reckoning, the target of illuminating 18,500 villages in just under three years is noteworthy and needs to be supported in full measure.

Village electrification has been an ongoing activity since Independence. Thankfully, there has been a sea-change in technology over the years. There are bound to be villages so remote and inaccessible that conventional modes of wired connectivity will be impracticable. Serious thought needs to be given to adopting off-grid techniques, mainly solar power. Coupled with energy storage solutions, such solar-powered villages could be made as empowered as the grid-fed ones.

It is also heartening to see the progress made by the national Smart Cities initiatives. As of now, 98 cities have been announced that qualify for the next round. Smart Grids, which will ensure technical and commercial efficiency in electricity consumption, will be a key feature of these smart cities.

India has much to do in the coming years—electrification of villages on the one extreme and smart grid-enabled cities on the other; and of course, the huge intermediate task of infusing efficiency in the power distribution chain.
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