by Justin Guay, via Sierra Club
Just days after the historic blackout reminded us that centralized coal is the problem, not the solution to India’s energy woes, a new era of entrepreneurs marked the beginning of a truly revolutionary effort to deliver energy access.
The landmark deal that marked their arrival was lost amidst the coverage of the blackout and the continued death spiral the coal sector finds itself in. Nonetheless, the deal between OMC Power, and Bharti Infratel (India’s largest mobile phone provider) to provide clean renewable energy to its off grid cell phone towers was historic. It marks the arrival of Community Power and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon.
As my colleagues at GSMA have demonstrated in a number of excellent reports, the potential for Community Power to deliver where the centralized grid has failed is tremendous. But what is it? Check out a few of these videos from OMC and let me explain.
As mobile phones leapfrog traditional infrastructure, a population of 548 million un-electrified mobile phone users has driven the mobile phone industry to fall all over itself to help them keep their phones charged.
That’s because when people’s phones are charged they use them more, and when people use them more the mobile phone companies make more money — significantly more money. This has created a dynamic that turns the traditional view of delivering energy access on its head. Instead of seeing it as an “expensive development project” it is increasingly becoming a lucrative business proposition.
It just so happens that taking advantage of this proposition solves another vexing problem for mobile phone providers: costly diesel. By switching out the expensive diesel gen sets that power their off-grid “base stations” — radio towers that convert electricity into radio waves — the companies save money. In India there are an estimated 400,000 towers — over 150,000 of which don’t have reliable access to the grid.
This is where Community Power comes in.