A little while ago I was sleeping on a train from New Delhi to the northern Indian city of Lucknow where I live. At 3am I was jolted awake by a sudden stop. I slowly came to learn that the country’s entire northern grid had failed, leaving us stuck on the tracks and millions more without power. Sitting on a train for 15 and a half hours while travelling alone gave me a lot of time to think about why things like this happen and what it means for the rest of the world.
Over the course of the next few days, over 600 million people lost power after the northern and eastern grids both collapsed. But what is really shocking is that one billion people in the world live without electricity every day. As about one-sixth of the world’s population languished in the dark and heat and people in 20 of the 28 Indian states were affected, some of the millions living in energy poverty were unaware that anything was even wrong. Some of those living in energy poverty, a term that refers to the situation of large numbers of people in the developing world who are adversely affected by their lack of access to basic energy services, seem to be so used to inconsistent electricity that yet another black out did not raise any red flags.
So what does that say about India’s power-hungry dash to the “top” and who is being left behind on the way? While the Indian government has rolled out several bold plans to bring energy to rural areas over the last few years, 56% of rural Indian households still lack electricity according to the International Energy Agency. That means that overall productivity for those not on the grid is much lower than it needs to be. Children cannot do their homework after dark, people cannot take advantage of technological advancements, hospitals cannot function properly…even at my office in the state capital the power goes out six or seven times daily and I lose hours every day waiting for the internet to come back on.
In the news we hear a lot about how India is on the cusp of greatness. But how can they get there when 65% of the total population is still in the dark? Now more than ever there needs to be a greater focus on renewable energy in India and worldwide. If anything, this grid failure should teach us that we need clean alternatives as the future of India’s power consumption becomes more complex.