Sticking to India and assuming an average household size of five persons and the share of domestic power consumption in total consumption to be 22 % ( Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation estimates), the average household consumption per day works out to about 2 units of electricity. The consumption of electricity for agriculture per household, assuming 65% population as involved in agriculture for a living and the share of agricultural power consumption to be 18% of the total, we get per household consumption for agriculture in rural areas to be another 2 units of electricity per day.Thus, a rural household on an average consumes about 4 units of electricity per day. This is obviously grossly inadequate if we compare it with electrical energy use in Japan for instance or even China. However, this statistic masks the fact that in reality most rural households in India do not have effective access to grid electricity either for domestic use or for agricultural use and their consumption is way below even this very low national average with about 40% of households still having no access to grid electricity. This is the case with the villages deep inside the Mathwar Reserved Forest area in Alirajpur, which form the core area of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, where grid electricity consumption is zero and there is some minimal consumption from solar panels.
While countries like the USA and Japan have to seriously consider cutting down on their electricity usage given the high environmental cost of such usage, India has to improve its electricity consumption if it is to provide a better quality of life to most of its people but to even double the current consumption through fossil fuel based centralised generation would mean an immense environmental cost. Also given the asymmetries in distribution, the increased electricity generated would be unequally distributed leaving the vast majority still short of minimum standards. Thus, India is faced with a difficult conundrum with regard to electrical energy consumption - it has to increase electricity consumption but without adversely affecting the environment.
It is in this context that decentralised renewable electrical energy assumes importance. Currently renewable electrical energy generation through wind and solar systems feeding into the grid is about 10% of the total electricity generation but decentralised renewable electricity generation is negligible. All the thrust in renewable energy is for centralised generation to feed into the grid which is not really going to serve the needs of the vast rural population that is starved of electricity. Therefore, there has to be a policy shift for decentralised off grid or distributed generation catering to small village communities. This can be a mixture of biomass gasification based generation and solar photovoltaic panels. The former for the heavier needs of agricultural production and processing and the latter for household needs. It requires roughly 6kg of biomass to produce 1 unit of electricity and a rural household requires about 4 units of electricity for its agricultural operations and this means a biomass requirement of 25kgs per day which is not very difficult to ensure with forest conservation and reutilisation of agricultural biomass. Solar panels have become more efficient with time but the problem of storage still remains expensive. However, for providing 1 unit of electricity for domestic use not much investment is required. The technologies for distributed electricity generation are there but unfortunately the will to implement them on a large scale in rural areas isn't and so there seems to be no prospect of light at the end of the tunnel for the Adivasis in Alirajpur!!!