Mapping energy access : a regional energy planning framework for rural electrification in India

Subramanya, Vivek Shastry
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Delivery of modern energy services continues to be a priority in the global development agenda. Despite technological advancements and political efforts, some countries have only achieved limited success in their electrification programs. I take the example of India, where two-thirds of the total population are in rural areas, and only a little more than half of the rural households had access to electricity as of 2011. It has been so despite the early state-driven attempts and more recent national and state policies that aimed to deliver energy to all. In this thesis, I used complexity theory as a lens to investigate the energy access literature. I found this framework particularly helpful because of its emphasis on local knowledge and feedback loops. Essentially, certain types of knowledge are context specific, and a concerted effort is required to recognize this knowledge and bring it into the decision making process. I hypothesized that the delivery of energy access can benefit from local knowledge and regional planning, but it is not yet an institutional practice to do so. I applied a pragmatic multi-method approach to investigate rural electrification in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. First, I explored the historical context of electrification in Karnataka and found this to be a top-down process, much like in the rest of India. Second, I drew from a stakeholder focus group discussion to further substantiate this finding, and provided examples of useful local knowledge in the socio-political context. Third, I identified relevant energy access indicators and presented a spatial analysis to show the regional disparities in different indicators and the opportunities to strategize future policy implementation. Finally, I synthesized all the findings to develop a regional energy planning framework based on three key components: data management, stakeholder coordination and policy advocacy. I make the case that policy research organizations can initiate this planning activity in different states to develop locally relevant rural electrification policies that build on regional data and local knowledge.