Smart Power for Environmentally Sound
Economic Development (SPEED)



India has a huge demand for increased access to energy services. Forty per cent of the population lacks reliable access to electricity. The provision of energy services is inextricably linked to socioeconomic development. Lack of electricity severely inhibits the ability of poor, marginalised households across the world to escape from the clutches of poverty. In underdeveloped rural areas, traditional sources of energy for cooking and lighting such as firewood and kerosene are scarce, expensive and polluting. Village communities are forced to rely on diesel to irrigate fields and run small businesses at a cost that is over three times that of commercial electricity. As India adds over 400 million people to the mainstream economy in the coming years, there will be increased energy demands. Coal-fired power plants generate 60 per cent of the country’s electricity. To prevent the rapid growth of India’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Clean energy addresses energy security, employment and climate change. And yet, very few projects have been able to demonstrate viable and scalable models for provision of energy services to the poor.

There have been several Government initiatives to support clean energy, especially biomass, biogas and solar initiatives. Of equal importance is India’s strong tradition of implementing measures through villages based on local knowledge and experiences. The exchange of experiences between communities and cooperation between local authorities and private actors has played an important role in situations where major breakthroughs have been made. There is an urgent need to apply multi-stakeholder based ‘learn and apply’ approaches to the decentralised renewable energy sector. In many areas in India, grid-based power is extremely unreliable and demand is highly disaggregated amongst a rural and small town population of almost 700 million people.

Environmental concerns, particularly those related to climate change, have led to heightened interest in the generation of electricity from renewable resources and its deployment through innovative off-grid service delivery models to meet the basic needs of the poor. Therefore, a considerable priority has been accorded in recent years to the development and promotion of small scale, decentralised, ’green’ solutions.

SPEED Rationale

It is a proven strategy that promotion of renewable energy for the rural sector needs an innovative approach. Renewable sources of energy include biomass, solar, hydro and wind that are dispersed and variable in nature. However, these distributed sources can be better tapped by using a large number of smaller plants, rather than having fewer large plants. Such a strategy will reduce the energy transmission losses and also improve the availability of electricity in the rural areas. This method of distributed clean power generation, i.e., localised power generation can indeed ensure that the ‘power reaches the unreached’, thus building an environment conducive to bringing out the desired economic change and much anticipated inclusive growth into the lives of millions of people in the rural area deprived of power till now.

Smart Power for Environmentally Sound Economic Development (SPEED), an initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), is here to address the growing power needs of the rural population through enhanced access to clean and affordable energy services, particularly electricity, in underserved regions of India. RF is now seeking to operationalise this concept on a larger scale through a sustainable business development approach in which on-ground pilots will be run by Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) to deliver on SPEED goals.

Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA) will implement the SPEED project in collaboration with a consulting firm, cKinetics; a civil society organisation, PRADAN; an industry body CII-Godrej Business Centre and DESI Power.

The long-term vision of SPEED is to help communities in scaling up renewable energy solutions that will enhance access to energy and create sustainable livelihoods in large numbers, thereby improving the quality of life and enhancing livelihood security. Scalability of the SPEED model is contingent upon the ability of actors within the SPEED Ecosystem - most notably renewable energy based power plant operators - to establish and sustain viable service delivery models. Thus, the more immediate objective of SPEED is to, ‘establish the SPEED model as a widely replicable mechanism for local economic development through delivery of reliable, affordable and clean electricity and influence policy to create a more conducive environment for investment in sustainable rural electrification’.

Experience with and across a wide spectrum of donor-aided and government-supported projects aimed at meeting household lighting needs has, however, shown that services cannot be sustained unless power producers include a mix of higher revenue generating bulk users of electricity in their delivery model. Commercial demand that helps overcome dependence on diesel is critical to the success of decentralised power plants; as local entrepreneurs and farmers are willing to pay for electricity and allied services at competitive prices. SPEED will, over the next three years, support the establishment of 50 renewable energy based village level power plants. It will support eco system development around the SPEED concept by:

  • Catalysing demand by ensuring that telecom towers are anchor loads and local micro-enterprises are developed

  • Capacity building of local personal to manage plants, local distribution, etc.

  • Facilitating finance by creating financing models based on a mix of private equity, investment from financial Institutions, government subsidies and donor-supported incubation funds

  • Promoting favourable policies and regulatory changes pertaining to renewable energy based power generation and distribution

SPEED seeks to partner with companies and organisations who are interested in:

  • Extending the reach of their business to rural households through decentralised power projects, either directly or with local power generation enterprises

  • By attracting investment, as either equity or debt, to drive large-scale adoption of their renewable energy technologies and service delivery models

  • Serving the energy needs of micro enterprises and rural households; thereby helping SPEED attain its goal of economic and social development

Over a three-year period from July 2011 to June 2014, the SPEED initiative will establish pilot projects in 30 to 50 villages of India to demonstrate the sustainability of the model and create verifiable conditions for its scaling up to 1000 villages or more by aligning interests of different actors to drive the SPEED concept and agenda and support field-building around the SPEED concept by promoting favourable policies and regulation, engaging critical industry players, creating financing models, supporting the spread of scalable, sustainable implementation models and promoting increased channels for affordable technology dissemination.

TARA envisages that at the end of three years, SPEED will deliver significant benefits at the community level - energising and empowering the lives of approximately 5,000 families. Once fully operational, the renewable energy based power plants set up under SPEED are expected to effect significant reduction of CO2 emissions annually. More importantly, SPEED will result in the creation of an ‘ecosystem’ of organisations and an enabling environment that will support the rapid growth of renewable energy based energy services on a sustainable commercial basis. Access to reliable and affordable electricity will enhance incomes, reduce the work load on women and provide clean household lighting in the most underdeveloped parts of India.

The overall duration of the SPEED project will be three years, divided into four phases: a design phase of 6 months (months 1-6); prototype project implementation phase of 16 months (months 5-20); capitalisation phase of 6 months (months 19-24) and expansion phase of 12 months (month 25-36); there being a moderate overlap across the first three phases. q

Utparn Dubey


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