Power to segregate: improving electricity access and reducing demand in rural India

India’s energy situation is marked by deficits, coal imports, a national grid that collapsed in 2012, and efforts to develop renewable sources. Acknowledging that 400 million people lack access to electricity, the government is obliged to endeavour to provide electricity to all parts of the country. Yet missing infrastructure leaves large rural areas and many poor households behind. The conditions are aggravated by the fact that, to irrigate their fields, millions of farmers opt for pumping groundwater. Dwindling water tables and cheaper but ever more powerful pumps together with high energy subsidies contribute significantly to unsustainably rising electricity consumption. This not only adds to the fiscal burden of the state but results in load shedding that disrupts well-being and production. This paper describes and analyses lessons learned from the segregation of power for agricultural and non-agricultural use in the context of India’s quest to reduce rural demand while improving access.