A grass-root level innovation to make power affordable

In the process of reaching out to experts, I interviewed Mr. Sushil Kumar Srivastava, who is the general Manager of Tata Power Delhi Distribution (TPDDL). Tata Power Delhi Distribution used community development initiatives in slum clusters to enhance its revenues, cut distribution losses and build bridges with consumers. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Akanksha Saluja: In your opinion what are the greatest challenges in delivering power to off-grid areas?

SK Srivastava: Biggest challenge today is the huge amount of loss that we are incurring in the transmission and distribution of power. Losses due to both technical as well as commercial reasons. As per the Commission report, these losses run into thousands of crores. This is one of the challenges in distribution industry at all levels. Another challenge is the technological up-gradation of the grid that we need in order to achieve the global benchmark. Addressing these challenges will involve huge capital investment, but then a lot of remedies will also follow with these investments.

A.S.: What do you think are the reasons behind these losses and how could it be prevented?

S.S.: India has one of the highest levels of aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses in power distribution, averaging 30 percent of total power distributed. About 5 percent of this happens due to power theft in slum clusters. It happens mostly due to the need for power and the lack of resources to pay. Another reason is the mindset of people, be it those into industry or a common man, everyone wants to use electricity by paying as little as possible. In order to prevent it, electricity must be made affordable, huge investments need to be incurred for technological up-gradation. Secondly, the mindset of people needs to be changed. People must be made aware of the importance of electricity since it is one of the main sources of upgrading lifestyle. Today, in our country, only 20% are among the privileged few who have access to electricity. The transformation that we are aspiring for to become a global power can only happen if power is made accessible to more and more people. There is a need for policy and advocacy to avoid theft and increase the coverage of power.

A.S.: What initiatives are you aware of that are geared in this direction?

S.S.: Public-Private Partnerships are taking place. Even inclusive private organization have entered this sector. Also, the grid-level distribution is becoming more and more systematized. Of Course, there have been downfalls like total blackout, but that apart, the overall distribution scenario is moving towards betterment. As we can see, T&D losses have come down from 53% in 2002 to 15% in 2009. More inclusion of capital as well as stakeholder inclusion at all level has led to this improvement. It is time to work at the bottom of pyramid level now.

A.S.: What are the initiatives taken by TPDDL?

S.S.: We have deeply gone into the reasons for the maladies and we tried to create many innovate energy effects. For example- Tata philosophy of community initiative. Within the area served by Tata Power Delhi Distribution, there are more than 220 slums. We decided to focus on last-mile losses in slum clusters since this challenge was special and needed a sensitive approach. We engaged ourselves with these communities in order to understand their problems and needs. A new business model was needed to provide affordable, legitimate electricity connections to slum dwellers since they needed electricity but did not have resources to pay. We set up a ‘special consumer group’ to address this issue. But the most innovative aspect of the plan was to create ways and avenues where we can enable them to pay their bills by involving community members as franchisees for metering and bill collection in the slum clusters, thereby introducing new livelihood and entrepreneurship opportunities. The franchisee model was creatively used to encourage consumers to get legal connections, improve collections, motivate residents to take advantage of the socioeconomic improvement offers from TPDDL, and in acting as a bridge between the company and consumers for improved services and complaint redress. Creating a kind of affordability was our unique innovation.

A.S.: Do you think resorting to energy-efficient appliances can also be one of the ways of creating sustainability?

S.S.: A lot of initiatives and advocacy are going in this direction and making electricity efficient appliances. Even government is trying to motivate people to buy start rated appliances and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). But the question is how to make such electricity efficient models affordable? For that, we need to see how these can be produced at mass level to increase affordability.

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