An intense debate continues on how best to provide electricity to the 1.1 billion people currently without access to it -- of whom 600 million are living in Sub-Saharan Africa, many of them in rural areas. According to a 2015 IEG evaluation, low-access countries received about 3.6 billion USD per year into the electricity sector from all sources over 2000 – 2014. The bulk of these funds has gone into extension of the traditional electricity grid. The IEG report also states that to achieve universal grid access in current low-access countries by 2030 will require over 17 billion USD per year, including about 12 billion USD per year for new transmission and distribution capacity. An additional 20 billion USD per year will be needed to address current supply inadequacies and expand generation capacity to meet growing demand. The largest share of this investment would be in Sub-Saharan Africa, given the size of the population without access and the challenges of making effective infrastructure investments there (Foster and Briceño-Garmendia, 2010).
The 10th South Asian Economics Students Meet (SAESM) was held in Lahore, Pakistan, bringing together 82 top economics undergraduate students from the region. The theme was the Political Economy of South Asia, with a winning paper selected for each of the six sub-themes. In this post, Thilani Navaratne presents her winning paper on the political economy of energy and natural resource use. Posts from the other winning authors have also been featured on this blog, and can be found at the end of this post.
In the past, Sri Lankan policy makers and politicians paid considerable attention to creating surplus energy capacity at the national level in order to support rapid development while at the same time, embarked on rural development as a prime political initiative where the rural electrification infrastructure formed a crucial component of the policy framework.
I conducted an analysis of the dynamics and the characteristics of the political economy of access to energy in rural electrification in Sri Lanka. The study focuses on how national policies shaped rural energy access and what influence rural politics and demand at the grassroots level have had on the energy infrastructure.
In addition to that the study explores the budgetary policies that had a direct bearing on national energy policies, and more specifically in creating rural energy infrastructure itself. While the provision of energy is the main component of rural energy access, the affordability of energy at rural level remains a key factor in the ultimate, tangible outcomes of energy usage. Clearly, rural economic development and enhancement of living standards are intrinsically linked with the degree of access to energy at affordable prices.
My paper finds that rural access to energy has come about both as a direct outcome of specific policies as well as a result of broader policies of rural development. Specific policies include the National Energy Policy which addresses the basic energy needs of the nation and sets out strategies to be followed to fulfil such needs. Much broader, macro level policies relating to Rural Development and energy accessibility are captured in the “Mahinda Chinthana”- The long term plan for the future of the nation, presented by the governing regime and in the Ministerial Policies.
Small but sometimes radical new steps toward greener energy and green growth are happening on our stressed planet, but we don’t hear enough about them, nor do we sufficiently explore and share policy lessons.
Examples include ‘smart grid’ R&D activities that deploy sensors to gather data on incoming electricity from wind, solar and other renewables with varying power outputs, better management of outages, factoring in the needs of electric vehicles, and installing more energy-efficient power meter usage in homes and offices. At the other end of the spectrum, Husk Power Systems, a company operating in Bihar, India has devised a novel single fuel gasifier for rural electrification based on discarded rice husks – one of India’s most common waste products. Thanks to the risk husks, 60 mini-power plants have now been installed. They power about 25,000 households in more than 250 villages in rural India.