Powering Development in Climate Vulnerable Areas: The Role of Decentralized Solar Solutions in India
In India, poor and marginalized communities face the dual challenges of low socioeconomic development and extreme vulnerability to climate change. Although there have been significant improvements in India’s rural household electrification, electricity availability for health centers, schools, and rural enterprises is still limited. Decentralized solar energy solutions are increasingly considered for bringing reliable electricity to community facilities, especially in climate vulnerable areas.
Climate change can affect the level and type of demand for electricity for development service delivery. Extreme events associated with climate change can disrupt the existing electricity supply, leading to demand for alternate or backup electricity sources. Communities rely on electrically powered activities to respond to conditions caused or exacerbated by climate change. Finally, electricity is required for ongoing activities that can potentially build long-term capacities to cope with climate-related events.
Effective decentralized solar solutions in climate vulnerable regions must be tailored to local conditions. Energy systems must be designed to meet context-specific electricity demand, based on local geography, the availability of supportive infrastructure, and end-use requirements. For example, planning for the design, installation, and maintenance of a decentralized solar energy system in a flood-prone char island school is very different from that in a lightning-prone mainland school, even if both schools fall under the same government program.
Decentralized solar energy systems are not entirely climate proof. Components of decentralized solar solutions are vulnerable to climate-related events such as floods, lightning, extreme temperature, and rainfall. Understanding and planning for the climate risks in advance can help reduce downtime, loss of assets, and build resilience.
Resilience planning starts before the design stage and continues thereafter. Project implementers, policymakers, and donors need to realize that building resilient structures and communities begins well before the design stage. System design and operation and maintenance planning should be based on climate-risk data and models, local socioeconomic and ecosystem assessments, policies, and design standards that promote and enforce resilient infrastructure and support community resilience.
Technology is just one component of a climate resilient decentralized solar installation. Organizational arrangements need to incorporate climate considerations while setting expectations and assigning roles and responsibilities. Climate resilient design needs to also translate into the funding plan, with innovative financing and risk hedging models.
There is a need to go beyond conventional implementation models. Traditional implementation models have specific, often siloed responsibilities. The uncertainty created by climate change requires all stakeholders to be more flexible and responsive and demands more innovative implementation, operation, and maintenance models. Examples include energy and development partners working together from the start, active participation and capacity building of end users and community members, and innovative financing models.
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