A recently-released survey suggests that nearly 87% of the country’s population has access to grid-based electricity, while 13% either use non-grid sources for electricity and lighting or don’t use any electricity at all.
The survey was undertaken by Smart Power India, in association with Rockefeller Foundation and the NITI Aayog. The report ‘Electricity Access in India Benchmarking Distribution Utilities October 2020’ reveals the findings of a study commissioned to understand the current state of electricity access.
Of all customers using non-grid sources, the majority (62%) are agricultural customers. Only 4% of today’s households do not have access to grid-based electricity, while a significant proportion of agricultural customers (48%) do not have access to the grid.
Although India has achieved a 100% connection rate for all its willing households, providing reliable power of adequate quality regularly is an ongoing challenge for the Indian power sector.
The study aims to capture insights from both the demand side (electricity customers) and the supply side (DISCOMs) and takes a cue from global agency guidelines, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) initiative.
The study also uses the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) Multi-tier Framework (MTF) to improve electricity viability and reliable access.
According to the study, 92% of customers reported the availability of power infrastructure within 50 meters of their premises. Under the agricultural category, the availability rate reported was about 75%. The report suggests that the PM Saubhagya program has successfully connected households to
the grid with a 100% access rate. However, the report also states that even though electricity infrastructure is available, not all customers have a grid connection.
For customers with electricity infrastructure within 50 meters of their premises, the overall connection rate is 86%; however, the connection rate for agricultural and institutional customers is particularly low, at 70% and 81%, respectively. Yet, grid access varies across customer categories, utilities, and states.
The study also focused on finding reasons for customers not having a grid connection. There are several reasons for non-connection to the grid among customers who rely on non-grid electricity and lighting sources.
These include the distance of the nearest electric pole from the customer’s premises (47%), inability to pay for electricity costs and user charges (35%), and poor quality of service (20%).
The response to the primary survey indicates a potential lack of customer awareness, albeit electricity connections were delivered at affordable rates, as per the Saubhagya program.
The study has also highlighted that among unconnected commercial customers, almost half of them stated that the main reason was unaffordability. Meanwhile, 43% of unconnected institutional customers indicated that they were either refused a connection or had applied for one but were still waiting.
The study claims that the majority (92%) of household customers with a grid-based electricity connection have a low sanctioned load of 0-1 kW (76% of customers) or 1-2 kW (16% of customers).
As utilities are focused on ensuring 24*7 power for all, the customer survey conducted under the study shows that over the past few years, the power supply has increased significantly across customer categories and stands at approximately 17 hours per day as per the survey.
The study measured power reliability through the number of power cuts and prior notification of upcoming power cuts.
Agricultural and institutional customers reported no power cuts during each day of the past week, whereas 70% of household customers reported one or more power cuts in the past week. Around 75% of household customers reported not receiving any prior notification of upcoming power cuts.
According to the study, power quality is determined by the number of voltage fluctuations. Overall, 63% of customers reported more than one voltage fluctuation in a week, and 10% reported more than ten voltage fluctuations per day in the past week.
The study assessed the affordability factor only for the household category. It is measured as the household customer’s paying capacity for electricity, as a share of the total monthly expenditure.
If the cost incurred on this threshold level of electricity consumption is less than 5% of total household expenditure, access is affordable. The study observed that overall access to electricity is affordable for 83% of household customers.
However, customers are not aware that the electricity tariffs they are paying are already subsidized.
The study also analyzed safety measures by asking customers in all categories to report on any electricity-related accidents in the past year, and 16% of customers reported electrical accidents in the last year.
Customer service was the final parameter considered in the study and covered the customers’ expectations from electricity services such as metering, billing frequency, mode of payment, and complaint management.
The study also adopted the World Bank’s Multi-tier Framework (MTF) to the Indian context (MTF-I) to outline the overall performance on access. Customers are placed in one of five tiers based on the degree of electricity access. Most of the surveyed customers fall in tier 0, the lowest category.
While 24*7 energy access through the grid is still a distant dream in India, the pandemic has also pulled down the sale of off-grid products like solar lamps that help those without reliable power. Sales of off-grid solar products in India fell by 50% in the first half of 2020 compared to the second half of 2019. The sales were also down 59% compared to the first half of 2019, said the latest report published by the Global Off-grid Lighting Association. Nearly 391,000 units of off-grid solar solutions were sold between January and June 2020.
Over 300,000 households have been electrified through solar-based standalone systems, the Minister of New and Renewable Energy said in October.
Image credit: Smart Power India
Rahul is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Before entering the world of renewables, Rahul was head of the Gujarat bureau for The Quint. He has also worked for DNA Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad Mirror. Hailing from a banking and finance background, Rahul has also worked for JP Morgan Chase and State Bank of India. More articles from Rahul Nair.