Lucknow। Till now the full potential of solar energy has not been harnessed. Till now it has produced only modest benefits for rural households. Various studies conducted by several researchers over a period of time provides evidence of only modest reductions in energy expenditures and some suggestive evidence of educational benefits. But, broader economic benefits beyond reduced energy expenditures remain limited and uncertain.
According to an IRENA (2015) report 20 million households worldwide are served through solar home systems and another 5 million households through renewables- based micro-grids. Sales of solar lanterns in Asia was about 3 million per year in 2011, virtually all of them coming from India, with India being the fastest rising market according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s most recent market report (BNEF 2017).
The decreasing cost of solar power has created a vibrant off-grid electrification industry. However, its avowed benefits have not been analyzed completely. It is without a doubt that basic energy access is qualitatively different from no power at all but the evidence for other benefits like health, education and economic benefits is either mixed or limited.
Experimental studies carried out by Aklin et al. 2017 elucidates that off-grid systems generate modest but meaningful reductions in household energy expenditures. It reduced household expenditure on kerosene from the black market almost by 50% but the purchase of subsidized kerosene from government shop remained unchanged.
Evidence on educational benefits are decidedly mixed, Kudo et al. 2017 offered free solar lanterns to students in Bangladesh and found that both attendance and study time increased, but these changes did not improve academic performance. Grimm et al. (2016) found only limited evidence for an increase in study time among children.
It is true that the decreased use of kerosene lamp has improved the quality of air inside the homes but otherwise the evidence for health improvements is modest. Grimm et al. (2016) found that though households profess better air quality after adopting solar kits these positive perceptions disappear in survey questions about actual health outcomes.
Finally, experiments conducted to verify economic benefits have proved that there has been no change in household expenditure, savings, or home business. Grimm et al. (2016) focused on time allocation to productive activities and found no evidence of change from solar kit adoption.
The absence of economic benefits may be due to the fact that solar power till now only used for basic energy access. The cost of each kilowatt-hour for large loads of power remains higher as compared to the power used by households from larger systems such as a national grid or large mini-grid. Till the time solar power is not made affordable for using high voltage appliances, it’s applications will remain limited and thus its capacity underutilized.
1.Aklin Michael, Patrick Bayer, S.P. Harish, and Johannes Urpelainen. 2017. Does basic energy access generate socio-economic benefits? A field experiment with off-grid solar power in India. Science Advances, 3(5): http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/5/e1602153/tab-pdf
2.BNEF. 2017. Off-grid and mini-grid: Q1 2017 Market Outlook. https://about.bnef.com/blog/off-grid-mini-grid-q1-2017-market-outlook/
3.Grimm, Michael, Luciane Lenz, Jörg Peters, and Maximiliane Sievert. 2016. A first step up the energy ladder? Low-cost solar kits and household’s welfare in rural Rwanda. World Bank Economic Review, lhw052. https://doi.org/10.1093/wber/lhw052
4.IRENA. 2015. Off-grid renewable energy systems: Status and methodological issues. IRENA Working Paper. http://www.irena.org/publications/2015/Feb/Off-grid-renewable-energy-systems-Status-and-methodological-issues.
5.Kudo, Yuya, Abu S. Shonchoy, and Kazushi Takahashi. 2017. Can solar lanterns
improve youth academic performance? Experimental evidence from Bangladesh. World Bank Economic Review: lhw073. https://doi.org/10.1093/wber/lhw073.