Enhanced interaction between data-science based IT systems and the electricity delivery systems will revolutionize the delivery of services.
As a general purpose technology (GPT), electricity has embodied our definition of improved quality of life. Access to electricity service is now regarded as a basic necessity. In India, the government has taken up access to electricity as an utmost priority. Two of government’s flagship programs — Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana and the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana or Saubhagya Scheme -- are harnessing both central grid and decentralized or off-grid based approaches for providing electricity access across all villages and to all households, respectively. In the current paradigm, India has earned the reputation of being one of the top performers in terms of the growth in electricity access, in recent years.
This progress builds on the mark of a new dawn initiated with the introduction of the Electricity Act 2003, which mandated the supply of electricity to all areas, irrespective of whether it is an urban or a rural area. The Act also allowed for the participation of private players, and delicensed generation and distribution of electricity, in rural areas. This led to the sprouting of social enterprises in the electricity access space. This development further sparked innovation. At present, information technology (IT) based solutions such as smart meters for renewable energy-based micro and mini-grids and pay-as-you-go systems are well-established solutions. Yet, there is a lot that can be harnessed.
The ongoing electricity access schemes of the government have successfully deployed the electricity distribution and transmission infrastructure across the majority of the Census villages. At this juncture, cumulatively, the distribution companies have a much larger number of villages and households drawing their services, than ever. Given the fact that there are huge territories to serve, one can think of it as a challenge. Nevertheless, familiarity with modern IT solutions can enable translation of underlying challenges into opportunities.
For example, a large amount of data generated on a regular basis can be leveraged by the distribution companies, using big data analytics, to derive insights about payments and demand patterns. Similarly, for delivery of services such as bill collection in remote and rural areas, the introduction of scratch cards through mobile phone retailers will potentially enhance the collection efficiency and also reduce associated costs. Additionally, predictive analytics-based solutions can be harnessed by distribution companies to plan for preventive maintenance of the infrastructure. In the insurance sector, the capability of drones is already being harnessed and the same can be replicated by utilities for monitoring of supply lines in rural and remote areas. In recent years, the growing popularity of blockchain technology has gained the interest of innovators in the electricity space. There are also a growing number of start-ups that have developed blockchain-based technology solutions to foster small ticket energy trading among individual owners of decentralized solar systems.
Disruption in the electricity access space is inevitable. The future electricity service delivery systems will not be constrained by the debates of early years - centralized or decentralized systems, and coal-based power or renewable energy based generation. Businesses will compete in terms of the cost of service delivery and quality of service. Enhanced interaction between data-science based IT systems and the electricity delivery systems will revolutionize the delivery of services. Also, the juxtaposing of modern IT systems will set reporting on actual service delivery, a reality.
Martand Shardul is an Associate Fellow at TERI and works with its Lighting a Billion Lives initiative. He is associated with the Capacity Building Hub for UNs Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative. In 2017, the UN Environment included his name in the directory of young change makers. Shardul is also the Representative for UN SDSN Youth in South-Asia.