Reliable 24X7 availability of electricity is taken for granted in most of the developed world. Whenever consumers plug their favorite gadgets into the wall socket, it is assumed that the power will be there. Everyone has access to it. Electrical power outages are extremely rare.
Electricity empowers consumers by enhancing their lives through better learning and entertainment, higher productivity and income, greater comfort, increased safety, superior health, and improved economy. People in the developed world live with the benefits of electricity everyday. While most people give little thought to where electricity comes from, there are many different ways to generate electricity - including coal, oil, gas, hydroelectric, nuclear, wind and solar. It is delivered to individual homes by extensive national grid systems.
In most of the developing nations, however, the availability of electricity to majority of the population is either unreliable or non-existent. The lack of such an essential energy source results in low levels of human development, low productivity and widespread poverty in the developing world, as evident from the chart above. The governments of most developing nations, particularly in South Asia, have miserably failed in providing such a basic necessity as electricity to their people. About 40% of the people in both India and Pakistan have no access to electricity, The percentage lacking access in Bangladesh is even higher. Socially-oriented enterprises such as Grameen Shakti and D.light are offering poor communities an affordable alternative to kerosene, which is ubiquitous but hazardous. The quality of the kerosene lamp light isn't good, it emits pollutants, and it's just plain dangerous. "You travel around these villages, and everyone has a story of a child being burned or a house destroyed by fire," says Nedjip Tozun of D.light, speaking to Fortune by phone from his office in Shenzhen, China. "And yet in some places we found that people were spending 15% to 20% of their income on light." The world's poor spend about $38 billion a year on kerosene for lighting, according to the International Finance Corp.
Pakistan's current installed capacity is around 19,845 MW, of which around 20% is hydroelectric. Much of the rest is thermal, fueled primarily by gas and oil. Per capita energy consumption of the country is estimated at 14 million Btu, which is about the same as India's but only a fraction of other industrializing economies in the region such as Thailand and Malaysia, according to the US Dept of Energy 2006 report. To put it in perspective, the world average per capita energy use is about 65 million BTUs and the average American consumes 352 million BTUs.
Extended electricity load shedding in Karachi's five major industrial estates is causing losses in billions of rupees as the production activity has fallen by about 50 per cent. KESC, Karachi's power supply utility, is dealing with with a shortfall of around 700MW against a total demand of 2200MW. Almost all forms of power generation from fossil fuel-fired thermal to hydroelectric to nuclear are down from a year ago. As a result of the daily rolling blackouts, the economy, major exports and overall employment are also down and the daily wage earners are suffering. The KESC and PEPCO owe more than Rs. 10b to the independent power producers (IPPs) and paying them will help bring them into full operation and ease the crisis at least partially.
The electric power situation in India is not much better. The country is suffering its worst electricity crisis. Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Haryana are the worst hit by the ongoing crisis and they are facing power gaps of about 5,000MW, 1,000MW, 2000MW, 1,500MW respectively. Some major cities in India are facing alarming situations; continuous load shedding in Bangalore has led to diesel shortage as people are using diesel generators to deal with the crisis. Times of India has reported student protests against power cuts affecting their studies. Textile and jute mills in West Bengal have been badly hit by unscheduled power cuts. In Tamil Nadu, severe power shortage has hit industrial production, according to MSN India. Companies said production could be down as much as 30 per cent. Sectors like textile, leather and salt appear to be among the worst hit. Industry associations put the loss in production at around Rs 4,000 crore. In Maharashtra, state officials are asking industrial consumers to lower their demand by 10% or be ready to face forced load shedding (rolling blackouts). Last year, IBN reported that New Delhi, the capital, faced 30 percent shortage in power. Maharashtra on an average had 8 to 10 hours of load shedding every day. Madhya Pradesh had 26 percent power deficit. In Gujarat, while the requirement is 5,500 Mega Units, availability is 4,780 Mega Units. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are facing 2000 Mega Units of energy deficit and Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir have 1,500 and 1000 Mega Units of power shortages respectively. Cities and towns are facing 7 to 13 hours blackouts.
To empower people and communities in some of the developing nations, social entrepreneurs are stepping in to fill the large gap between supply and demand for electricity. In Bangladesh, for example, Grameen Shakti is a social enterprise selling home solar electricity systems to families that do not have access to electricity otherwise, which includes more than 70% of the country’s population. It is an enterprise that demonstrates the success of a densely networked approach involving mutually reinforcing investments in human, social, ecological and financial capital by a number of organizations.
Solar energy makes much sense for Pakistan for several reasons: firstly, majority of the population lives in 50,000 villages that are far away from the creaking old national grid, according to a report by the Solar Energy Research Center (SERC). Connecting these villages to the national grid would be very costly, thus giving each house a solar panel would be cost efficient and would empower people both economically and socially.
To draw inspiration for empowering Pakistani villagers with solar energy, Pakistanis don't have to look far. In Bangladesh, Grameen Shakti (GS) is demonstrating that it can be done. GS was founded by Bangladeshi Nobel Laureate Mohammad Yunus in 1996 as part of the Grameen Bank’s family of enterprises. Shakti is attempting to rescue the rural people from energy poverty which hampers their social and economic development. Shakti's unique program has taken the first step to break the social and economical divide between those who have energy and those who do not.
The Grameen Bank, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was started in 1976 and officially founded in 1983; it operates on a model of providing small loans without collateral to the rural poor in Bangladesh. Grameen Shakti is one of more than two dozen organizations within the Grameen family of enterprises that is dedicated to improving the quality of rural life in Bangladesh. Although registered as a not-for-profit organization, Grameen Shakti is run like a business. In the face of persistent market challenges, the organization achieved profitability in 2000, after only four years of operation. Grameen Shakti has installed more than 40,000 individual solar energy systems that have provided more than 100,000 lower-income individuals with access to reliable electricity.
GS’s solar program mainly targets those areas, which have no access to conventional electricity and little chance of getting connected to the grid within 5 to 10 years. It is one of its most successful programs. Currently, GS is one of the largest and fastest growing rural based renewable energy companies in the world. GS is also promoting Small Solar Home System to reach low income rural households.
Solar Home Systems(SHSs) can be used to light up homes, shops, fishing boats etc. It can also be used to charge cellular phones, run televisions, radios and cassette players. SHSs have become increasingly popular among users because they present an attractive alternative to conventional electricity such as no monthly bills, no fuel cost, very little repair, maintenance costs, easy to install any where etc.
Grameen Shakti has a micro-utility model for some very poor rural consumers who cannot afford a complete solar home system. Under this model, one entrepreneur installs the system at his own premise and share the load with some of his neighbors. Owner of the system is responsible for making installment payments to GS, more than 50% of which is covered by the rents he collects from the users of his system. Micro-utility model has become very popular in the rural market places and has helped to increase business turnover by extending business hours. More than 1000 micro-utility systems are operating in the rural market places.
GS installed SHSs have made a positive impact on the rural people. GS has introduced micro-utility model in order to reach the poorer people who cannot afford a SHS individually. Another successful GS venture is Polli Phone which allows people is off grid areas the facilities of telecommunication through SHS powered mobile phones.
Pakistani blog Pakistaniat has reported practical examples of the use of solar energy as seen in some villages of Pakistan where each house has been provided with a solar panel that’s sufficient to run an electric fan and two energy saving bulbs. Prior to this arrangement, the whole village used to go dark at night. In Narian Khorian, a village about 50 kilometers from Islamabad, 100 solar panels have been installed by a local firm, free of cost, to promote the use of solar energy. With these panels, the residents of 100 households are enjoying light and fan facilities. This would not have happened for decades as the supply of electricity from the national grid would be difficult and costly due to the mountainous terrain.
Dawn newspaper recently reported that the Alternative Energy Development Board is planning electrification of 6968 remote villages through solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the next 20 years. All the renewable energy projects, being undertaken by AEDB in the country, are financed by federal government through public sector development program (PSDP) allocation and funding from international multi-lateral institutions.
Among private non-government initiatives, a number of community-based micro hydro projects are being executed with the help of the Agha Khan Foundation in Pakistan's Northern Areas and NWFP. Within this region, out of a total of 137 micro-hydro plants, the AKRSP has established 28 micro-hydros with an installed capacity of 619kW. Initially, in 1986, these plants started as research and demonstration units. These projects were extended to Village Organizations (VOs) and became participatory projects. A Village Organization (VO) is a body of villagers who have organized themselves around a common interest.
Shakti Solar offers a very good model for organizing and funding a larger, nation-wide effort to empower Pakistanis with electrical energy to improve their lives.
Last February, I wrote an article "Solar Energy For Sunny Pakistan" suggesting that Pakistanis should seriously pursue the solar energy option. Many of the comments on the post were quite skeptical, some even cynical. But one particular response elated me. It was posted by someone with initials SK, who wrote as follows: "I am a consultant for the World Bank and I work on energy and infrastructure development issues. I am in the process of leaving and starting a non-profit organization to replicate the Grameen Shakti solar pv model in Pakistan because it is the only project I ever reviewed that seemed to make a bit of difference in actually alleviating poverty".
I do hope SK is out there now trying to light up a few homes in Pakistan to empower people. I wish SK, and others like him, great success as social entrepreneurs in Pakistan. It is indeed better to light candles than to curse darkness.