In North-East India, Boat Clinics Go Solar for Better Healthcare Delivery

Solar-powered boat clinic on river Bramhaputra operated by C-NES in Jorhat, Assam. This project was supported by GIZ and Good Energies Foundation. (Photo credit: SELCO Foundation)

Solar-powered boat clinic on river Bramhaputra operated by C-NES in Jorhat, Assam. This project was supported by GIZ and Good Energies Foundation. (Photo credit: SELCO Foundation)

For communities perilously living in flood prone areas, access to basic resources and opportunities is a perpetual challenge. River islands especially lack basic infrastructure and services such as healthcare, education, power, drinking water and sanitation. People risk the weather and flooding rivers, and make long journeys in difficult terrains to get basic health services such as vaccination, mother and child care, medicines, minor operations, etc. Medical emergencies can be particularly harrowing. Same challenges are prevalent across the sundarbans in Bangladesh, coastal areas of Rakhine in Myanmar, the lakes of Cambodia, and many other areas.

Mobile boat clinics developed as a response to this need. For example, a vast network of shifting islands characterizes the River Brahmaputra, in its 891 kilometer course through Assam in North East India. To provide basic health services to these communities, the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES) designed and built boat clinics, which have reached over 1.5 million people since 2005.

Bridging the energy gap

With the length of trips varying from a single day to several days, one of the biggest challenges that these clinics face is access to energy for powering basic health and communication equipment. Typically all these loads are powered by a diesel generator, the use of which is limited by the amount of diesel that can be stored on the boat, resulting in the services being terminated early every day. Diesel is also difficult to procure on the islands, and the intense noise from the generator makes it difficult to work on the boat.

In April 2017, with technical support from SELCO Foundation and Envo Business Solutions Pvt Ltd, the first solar powered boat clinic in the North-East was commissioned in Jorhat district of Assam. All the equipments on the boat that used to run on diesel now run on solar, which means the boat itself has more diesel available to be able to stay on the river longer. In the evening, the services stay open till all patients are treated (especially for emergencies), and the staff have more time to complete their work. The boat now has a solar-powered vaccine refrigerator, making it possible to also start storing vaccines, medicines and lab reagents, which otherwise had to be stored in ice boxes for a limited time.

Challenges and Opportunities

Retrofitting a boat with solar has certain challenges. Panels and batteries add over 500 kg, which needs to be balanced across the span — this is a worry for smaller boats than for larger ones. A waterproof space needs to be designed for batteries, panel mounting structures preferably made from aluminium to prevent rusting, and sturdy enough to withstand high wind speeds. To reduce the size of the solar system, every watt makes a difference — low energy, high efficiency portable medical equipment need to be developed for these contexts.

The idea of boat clinics challenge conventional healthcare delivery models, which rely on a network of stationary primary health centers to which people have to travel from far off places. A boat clinic takes healthcare to the doorstep of the people. Appropriately designed efficient health technologies could further enhance such doorstep services.

These concepts find relevance in many other sectors. Take for example the solar-powered floating schools of Bangladesh. Fishermen venturing out into the sea for extended periods of time, vendors in floating markets, rescue boats in rough seas all face similar challenges around access to energy. There is immense opportunity for energy enterprises to design solutions for these situations, and more partnerships are needed to institutionalize the learnings from these experiments.

Vivek Shastry works with the Policy and Planning Group at SELCO Foundation. He focuses on energy planning, ecosystem development, and energy-healthcare nexus.

Small hydro target moved up in India

Photo credit: MNRE

Photo credit: MNRE

NITI Aayog, the government policy think tank in India, has recommended that the country’s Small Hydro Power (SHP) target of 5 GW by 2022 be advanced to 2019–20, which it says will aid in balancing variable solar energy in decentralized locations.

SHP in India is defined as 2 to 25 MW. The country also has categories for micro-hydro (up to 100 kW) and mini-hydro (100 kW to 2 MW). The accelerated target, which would be achieved through infrastructure project grants and tariff support, was contained in NITI Aayog’s 3-year action agenda, which was issued on August 1.

With a few tweaks, India can lead rural electrification with real-time data and smarter metrics

Reality of village electrification in India. Although the grid now reaches almost all villages of India, many households within a typical village remain without power. (Photo credit: Johannes Urpelainen)

Reality of village electrification in India. Although the grid now reaches almost all villages
of India, many households within a typical village remain without power. (Photo credit: Johannes Urpelainen)

India’s Draft National Energy Policy, published by NITI Aayog on June 27, proposes to change the national definition of village electrification. The change would only consider a village fully electrified if all households enjoy adequate hours of power supply on a typical day.

The proposed approach is the polar opposite of the current definition, which considers a village electrified even if 90% of households don’t have power. Distribution infrastructure must be available in all habitations — distinct clusters of households within the village — and public spaces such as schools electrified. This definition emphasizes thus the reach of the electric grid in the village. Households — the actual users of power — play a decidedly secondary role. As a result, under the current definition, the number of villages that remain to be powered is only about 3,000 — less than one per cent of all villages.

NITI Aayog’s proposal is at best a partial solution to the problem. Instead of yet another yes-or-no definition, village electrification should be assessed on a continuous scale. With today’s information technology and telecommunications, India — a global leader in this sector — could create an index of electrification achievement for every single village in India. The index would increase with the number of electrified households, and improving the hours of supply would similarly add to the index.

While NITI Aayog’s proposal would highlight the issue of household electrification, a very stringent definition for electrification could also have negative consequences. If a village is only defined as electrified when all households have power, rural electrification agencies may spend too much money electrifying the last few homes. If electrifying the last five homes in village A costs 5,000 dollars and the same money would electrify ten homes in village B, where the current electrification rate is low, officials might go for the last five in village A so that they can claim credit for village electrification under NITI Aayog’s stringent definition. After all, village B would still be considered non-electrified according to the definition.

Setting a very high standard for hours of daily power supply could also backfire. If the minimal standard for daily hours of power were set too high, some states might be unable to make any progress on village electrification at all. Even worse, they could artificially inflate the supply of power at a high cost, adding to the debt of already financially struggling state-owned electricity distribution companies, only to be able to claim that they have electrified villages.

The index envisioned by the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP) would be available on a public website and mobile app for any Indian to see. Both national and the state governments already have the technological capacity to monitor electrification and the supply of power at the village level in real time. In every village digitized electrification records, online billing of electricity consumption, and household-level electricity supply monitors would show the reality of rural electrification. Such records could be easily linked to all other socio-economic data through India’s unique village identifiers from the 2011 Census of India.

The Government of India has already taken an important step toward real-time monitoring of household electrification and the quality of power supply. The GARV portal allows anyone to count the number of electrified households in any given village based on data from the state governments. The Government of India deserves applause for creating this portal, but it has significant untapped potential. Further digitization of electrification records and the installation of electricity supply monitors in every village would offer more comprehensive, timely, and reliable information about the state of rural electrification in India.

A continuous index of village electrification would bridge the gap between village and household electrification, hold government agencies accountable for their power sector and rural electrification achievements, and allow the entire Indian society to monitor and assess the country’s progress toward universal electrification. No other country has produced such an index to this date, so India has a real opportunity to emerge as a global leader in tracking the progress of rural electrification for social and economic gain. At a time when the entire world aspires to achieve universal electrification under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, India’s leadership in ending energy poverty would be of immense value.

Johannes Urpelainen (@jurpelai) is the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Professor of Energy, Resources and Environment in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. He is also the Founding Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP) at SAIS.

“Green Fund” Needed to Unlock Finance and Achieve India’s Clean Energy Goals

Cleaning solar panels in India (Photo credit: Sujith Ravi)

Cleaning solar panels in India (Photo credit: Sujith Ravi)

Momentum is building as India moves towards meeting its clean energy targets. Recognizing the tremendous growth potential and opportunity to overhaul India’s energy sector, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy convened policymakers, investors and key clean energy stakeholders at the World Renewable Energy Technology Congress in New Delhi this week to focus on accelerating the market and achieving India’s goals of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power by 2022.

India’s Power Minister Piyush Goyal highlighted that India’s efforts on clean energy are a step toward addressing the challenges of climate change while providing universal energy access to all. According to Minister Goyal, with greater “decarbonization, decentralization and digitization” of energy, the world has the opportunity to “leave a better world for the children of tomorrow”. Technology innovation and redirecting investments to renewable energy can help India achieve economic development while reducing fossil fuel use.

According to the Indian government, achieving India’s solar target of 100 GW by 2022 would require at least $100 billion in investment over the next six years. An even a greater amount of financing is needed to achieve India’s 2030 Paris targets. Both, public and private capital, are needed to advance clean energy deployment in India’s cities and villages.

As part of a panel discussion on innovative financing, we highlighted the challenges and emerging solutions for ramping up clean energy in India. NRDC and our partners, the Council on Energy, Environment and Waterhave engaged with over 80 stakeholder discussions, including high-level government officials, banks, developers, and thought-leaders in India over the past year. There is strong need and support for developing a specialized green investment fund aimed to advance clean energy.

Based on extensive engagement with government and business leaders in India, one key solution that is becoming clear is creating a ring-fenced pool of patient capital that is dedicated to accelerating the flow of finance to underserved clean energy markets. As identified by stakeholders, one of the main solutions is a green investment fund (commonly known as blended financing models, such as green investments banks). A green fund would increase the availability of low-cost, long-term private financing, especially in clean energy market segments that are underserved today, such as rooftop solar, as well as market segments that are on the horizon in advancing clean energy. Green funds amplify the impact of limited government funds by using public funds as a financial lever to attract private investments for clean energy development.

Five key initial findings from stakeholders include:

  • A green fund would be effective in serving as the focal point for innovative financing and could work with existing government entities to operationalize financing instruments (e.g., aggregation, warehousing, credit enhancement).
  • A green fund that is a mission-driven entity would be effective in drawing in patient capital and would take on projects that are perceived as riskier and are underserved (rooftop solar, off-grid mini grids), in order to accelerate market transformation and stay ahead of the curve.
  • A green fund focused on making public investment go further with blended financing from private investment in clean energy and crowding in domestic and international private capital would increase clean energy finance in India to achieve clean energy goals.
  • The concept of dedicated funds with blended, public and private co-investment is working effectively in India, especially for infrastructure development, since commercial banks are not structured to move quickly unless some of the risk of early deals is taken on by entities with higher risk tolerance.
  • A fund manager with deeper market knowledge could work with an existing government agency, such as IREDA (Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency) to build capacity and operationalize the fund.

Creating a green investment fund to channel public to finance innovative solutions can help India overcome a number of these challenges, especially for under-served technologies and geographies. The green investment fund model has been deployed in numerous countries around the world towards financing gaps for clean energy projects, often at the local level. They are publicly capitalized, domestically focused, specialized financial institutions specially established to crowd in private capital to investments in clean energy.

Green investment funds use the same tools and products that some development finance institutions use, including risk mitigation products, co-lending, co-investing, warehousing and securitization, and demonstration projects. Green investment funds have built a track record of success in mainstreaming a variety of new technologies, financial products, and business models, and crowding in private capital using financial innovation and sector expertise.

The key role for the green fund would be to help existing entities to be more effective and increase investment. The market does not need another lender. Rather, the market needs a dedicated entity that has the mandate to grow the market, the expertise to structure innovative transactions and the flexibility to cater to proven but underserved markets. It needs a fund with more patient capital and deeper clean energy finance expertise that leads market transformation. In addition to direct lending at lower rates, the green investment fund can offer financial products that help make commercial banks more comfortable with financing clean energy projects, such as partial credit guarantees or credit insurance.

To maintain the momentum of the renewable energy market, access to higher levels of financing are needed. A green investment fund can help leverage limited public funds to attract foreign investors by building confidence to bring in low-cost capital to develop innovative projects and help deliver the 175 GW target.


SEforALL launches newly updated ‘heat maps’: highlighting 20 "high impact" countries facing sustainable energy challenges

Photo Credit: SEforAll

Photo Credit: SEforAll

Power for All partner SEforAll recently launched an updated interactive addition to their website, called "heat maps". Relying on data from their knowledge partners, the maps graphically highlight countries and regions that are making the most progress, as well as those that are facing the biggest challenges, on major sustainable energy issues. 

The "heat maps" target four key areas of sustainable development: clean cooking, electricity access, energy efficiency and renewable energy—which all focus specifically on access. 

All of these "heat maps" identify 20 "high impact" countries facing sustainable energy challenges across the four access categories. "In the case of electricity access and clean cooking, for example, the high-impact countries are all in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia." SEforAll has posted fact sheets for each key indicator on their website, illuminating key trends and countries making the biggest leaps.

“By combining and analyzing data in these heat maps, we can show global leaders where they can make the biggest and fastest inroads towards our goal of universal energy access for all by 2030,” said Jane Olga Ebinger, Director of Policy at SEforALL, “The maps also show where big gains are happening so that we can replicate the success of others and help leaders in government, business and civil society make smart choices.”

Ebinger will be posting blogs on the heat maps in the next few weeks, and SEforAll will be posting guest blogs from their partners— as well as promoting the "heat maps" on social media via their hashtag #SDG7HeatMaps.

Most of the data used to create these maps comes from 2017 Global Tracking Framework, which SEforAll has used to assesses progress toward sustainable energy goals since 2013. "The Framework uses available data from household surveys and international databases to track access to electricity, clean cooking sources, improvements in energy intensity and increases in the share of renewable energy compared to overall energy consumption."

"The maps also draw on data from the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy–commonly known as RISE–which evaluate 111 countries on the quality of their policies and regulations for energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency."

For further details on the heat maps or any interview requests, please contact:
Beth Woodthorpe-Evans at Sustainable Energy for All | +1 202 390 1042




2016-17 Global LEAP Awards for Off-Grid TVs & Fans Announced


Winners and Finalists of the 2016-17 Global LEAP Awards for Outstanding Off-Grid Televisions and Fans were announced today by USAID’s Power Africa Beyond the Grid program. Power for All partner d.light won the medium television category, and our partners BBOXX and Mobisol were finalists in the large television and medium television categories, respectively. Congrats and we're proud to have you on the Power for All campaign!

This year’s competitions identified the world's best, most energy-efficient off-grid fans and televisions. Detailed information about all Global LEAP Awards Winners and Finalists – including product performance data and sales contact information – is available in the 2017 Global LEAP Awards Buyer’s Guide. Anybody interested in off-grid appliances is encouraged to review the Buyer’s Guide and contact Winners and Finalists for more information.

Global LEAP Awards Winners and Finalists are eligible for a new procurement incentives program based in East Africa and Bangladesh, supported by EnDev, Power Africa, and US DOE. Information on this program will be made available on as it becomes available.

The Global LEAP Awards for Outstanding Off-Grid Televisions and Fans are supported by Power Africa and US DOE.The Global LEAP Awards for Outstanding Off-Grid Refrigerators will be announced in January 2018, and are supported by USAID’s Global Development Lab, UK DFID’s Ideas to Impact programme, and Power Africa.

India: Ground zero for scaling electricity access and SDG7

For good reason, sub-Saharan Africa gets much of the attention when it comes to electricity access. It is home to more than 600 million energy poor spread across nearly 50 countries. But it is likely going to be India--by itself home to roughly 300 million unelectrified--where decentralized renewable energy (DRE) achieves the scale needed to deliver Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) - universal access to modern, affordable, reliable and sustainable energy by 2030.

India has a strong central government with support from the states. It has a thriving innovation and start-up economy. It is building infrastructure and supply chains for needed capacity. And it has access to money for R&D and deployment--not just for rural household power, but for productive use. It also has the desire and ability to leverage its international stature and market size to partner in Africa and other low energy access countries. These are all ingredients for further cost reductions and global scale.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is on record as saying all households will be powered in India by May 1, 2018, although the official goal for 24/7 electrification remains 2022. It is no secret that the Indian government’s electrification dream is based on grid extension. It is also becoming increasingly clear to many in both the public and private sector, however, that such a dream will be impossible to achieve without a primary role for DRE (see expert perspectives from the CLEAN Network and Smart Power India for more). DRE must take a front seat if India is to provide universal access. Here are some reasons why.

States and the private sector

India has already decided that states and the private sector will play leadership roles in the future of energy infrastructure, especially generation and distribution This is perfectly suited for the DRE sector, which is dominated by private sector players who are already nimble enough to navigate a customer base--the rural poor--that state-owned power companies, already deeply in debt, avoid as being unprofitable and too complicated to manage.

Integrated energy

Energy poor states such as Odisha, West Bengal and Assam are already working to figure out how to build integrated energy action plans that incorporate DRE as a key component to reliable, affordable rural electrification. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the two states with the highest number of energy poor, also are taking steps to increase the role for DRE, and their new chief ministers are both from the same ruling party as Prime Minister Modi.


Whether it’s electricians, loan officers, sales force, manufacturing, standards and quality assurance, hardware design or IoT and software, India has the pieces in place to scale DRE and create significant job opportunities. The Skills India campaign, with a goal of training 500 million youth by 2020, including those in villages, will help. Energy access is one focus of that training. At the same time, civil society and social enterprises are working to build capacity in other areas, such as banking, women entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises (see here and here). Moreover, the recent introduction of a Goods and Services Tax is expected to discourage imports of DRE products and increase domestic manufacturing and assembly, adding greater scale and capacity.

Households and beyond

While pioneering new DRE services and appliances for homes and building consumer awareness and rural distribution for basic access, India is also the global leader in applications that will take DRE further than lighting and phone chargers. Such programs as the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Smart Power India are clearing a path to scale micro-grids, including developing a Utility-in-a-Box solution. Private ESCOs are pioneering new micro-grid business models that are virtually battery free, or based on anchor loads from cold storage, irrigation and other productive uses, while civil society is working to enable rural healthcare and education via DRE. Solar Irrigation alone is estimated to be a $60 billion opportunity in India.

Money and policy follow opportunity

DRE in general is a massive economic opportunity in India (see our new infographic). Yet despite the opportunity, lack of access to finance and adequately supportive policy remain challenges to scale. It was a positive signal that the World Bank loaned India $625 million to install 100MW of grid-connected rooftop solar on commercial, institutional and industrial buildings, but India should seek the same level of support from global financiers for DRE. Some encouraging signs are emerging, such as an expected $100 million Green Climate Fund facility for DRE in India. The finalization of a new National Energy Policy (NEP) and the first national micro- and mini-grid policy can also play a critical role in providing additional policy support for DRE to take its proper place. The NEP proposes the creation of an Energy Access Fund, which will be needed following the diversion of billions of dollars in revenue from a coal levy that was previously earmarked for renewable energy projects. India also has almost 300 active micro-finance institutions, second only to Bangladesh, which can play an enhanced role.

[If you’re interested in electricity access developments in India, please follow our Powering Rural India publication. And if you’re a communicator, and want to join the India DRE communications secretariat, please contact William Brent]