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India: Can solar power become a tool for pro-poor development?
Milind Kandlikar
Recepients of the Martha Piper Research fund, associate professor Milind Kandlikar and Sumeet Gulati want to find out if solar power can be a viable energy solution for the 100 million households in rural india who do not have access to electricity.

September 19, 2011

India is one of the most energy poor countries in the world. In rural India, about one in five villages are not connected to the electrical grid. Even in villages with grid connectivity, about 100 million households do not get power from the electrical grids due to a lack of last mile connectivity.

Recently, many parts of the world, especially industrialized countries, have seen an increase in the installation of solar power. Solar Photovoltaics (PV) is an energy solution that can meet the everyday electricity needs of households without grid connectivity, replacing kerosene lamps as a source of lighting. The benefits are numerous – Solar PV is cheaper than kerosene lamps, it reduces indoor air pollution and can even result in better educational and economic outcomes. The improved access, reliability, quality of light and convenience that Solar PV would provide means children can study better and productive hours in a household can be extended.

Despite these benefits, however, not a lot of solar lighting systems have been installed. About 70% of 137 million rural Indian households can afford Solar PV, but only a fraction has actually installed them. The Indian government has started a National Solar Mission, which provides soft loans and subsidies as incentive to switch to solar power. Social entrepreneurs have started firms to provide Solar PV products to the world’s poor – many of which are in India. A number of NGOs are also involved, promoting solar lighting through micro-credit financing. These steps have made Solar PV systems more technologically and financially feasible – so why haven’t more households installed them?

Milind Kandlikar, associate professor at the Liu Institute, and Sumeet Gulati, associate professor at the Department of Forest Resources Management, want to find out exactly that. Recipients of the Martha Piper Research fund, Kandlikar and Gulati are aiming to understand what enables and what hinders the widespread use of solar power in energy poor households across India. The study will engage with rural households and companies in the solar PV sector to recognize the challenges they face. The outcome – a better understanding of the benefits of solar PV and specific variables that can affect consumer behavior – will help the government, NGOs and social entrepreneurs to be more successful, thus improving the use of solar power in India.

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