Collaboration and innovation for affordable energy

Priyanka Jain, Delhi Community Manager
Delhi, 24 April 2015

Ending energy deprivation is not easy. Counterproductive pricing and subsidy policies have for a long time made the poorest household in India pay much more than the richest household. The common barriers — the high cost of service, illegal status of slum dwellers, lack of education and awareness, lack of trust between communities and service providers, and lack of infrastructure — can only be removed if we first and foremost get our institutions and regulations right. But that is not enough. Two case studies from Delhi show the role that collaborative stakeholder engagement and community empowerment — as well as simple technological innovations — can play to ensure a better choice of affordable energy for the urban poor.

The first case highlights the reasons for which the energy companies often neglect the urban poor — despite the fact that they live right next door to modern energy services, and the relatively low cost of extending the grid. There are genuine business obstacles, such as unpaid bills and higher initial cost of connection. But according to research by the Delhi-based NGO Integrated National Development Centre for Advancement Reform and Education Trust (INDCARE Trust), a high proportion of slum households also have illegal connections, amounting to electricity theft. In 2003, the organization was approached by USAID and North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL) to build upon this research and assist in implementing an energy access project in the Bhalla Factory slum of New Delhi. What they did next is incredible.

INDCARE used innovative tools such as Mainstreaming of Urban Poor Women in Design for Resource Assessment (MAURA), to effectively target interventions, such as micro financing, and focused on supply constraints, payment mechanisms, and the quality of services provided. It also served as an intermediary between the community and the utility company, NDPL, and helped the community to negotiate agreements with NDPL through leadership training to community self-help groups so that they could articulate their demands and concerns. They worked with the community to change attitudes and help them understand their responsibilities as citizens to pay for services they consume. INDCARE collaborated with USAID and other microfinance institutions to provide capacity building for the community and to finance the costs of connecting households to the grid.

An outreach and advocacy campaign raised awareness in the community about the risks of illegal electrical access. Community representatives were coached to articulate their demands and their legal right to electricity and take the necessary steps to overcome issues of illegality. Awareness-raising events included street performances and poster campaigns, which were used to help teach the community negotiation skills necessary to demand and attain their rights. The project shows the need to establish trust between service providers and the community, and subsidize the high upfront costs of connecting. It also shows the importance of building capacity of the community, especially through women's groups.

The second case highlights how simple technological innovations, combined with a financial model and able leadership, can help provide better basic services to the poor. A social service organization, Sulabh, is quite well known in Delhi for providing public toilets. The organization decided to develop technologies to provide public toilets linked with a biogas plant and effluent treatment system, for the complete recycling and reuse of human waste. There are about 6,000 community toilet complexes, which serve about 12 million customers daily. Out of these, 100 have biogas plants linked to them.

The public toilets have provided people with hygienic sanitation facilities. The biogas plants have given more people, especially the poor, access to cleaner fuel. Additionally, the use of manure as a by-product has improved the fertility of arable land. Sulabh trained the community to construct and maintain the toilets and have attracted a solid paid workforce and an army of 50,000 volunteers who provide technical expertise and oversight.

Photo: David Gil and Nathan Cooke

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