We need innovation in technology and business models for managing the utility-customer interface, the last kilometre of service delivery
Imagine if Air India controlled other airlines’ access to airports, doling out landing rights as and when—or rarely. Or if State Bank of India controlled the payments infrastructure and refused to let any private banks use it. It wouldn’t have to explicitly ban new entrants or approaches to service to effectively eliminate them from the market.
A similar dynamic is currently holding back India’s electricity infrastructure. There have been important achievements. India has climbed 73 ranks to 26th position on the World Bank’s 2016 power accessibility rankings. It has increased the share of renewables , even as other parts of the world threaten to retreat to coal. Installed solar capacity, for example, has jumped five-fold over the last two years.
But there is much work ahead, not just on access or sources, but also in building the infrastructure capacity to support new uses for electricity and the load profiles they imply. Electric vehicles, increasing use of electricity in industry, or expansion of induction cooking, for example, will change the demands being placed on the electricity system.
We need, in particular, a distribution sector that is capable of collaborating with customers—not only for effective billing to restore utilities’ financial health, but also for ensuring efficient energy infrastructure. Collaboration between utilities and consumers is essential for managing load profiles to reduce capital investment. It is important for motivating adoption of appliances that use less energy and limit volatility in the current they draw—perhaps not the foremost concern today, but one that’ll become important in the coming years as more refrigerators, motors, and batteries are attached to the grid. Reducing power use can be much more capital-efficient than building additional capacity—but somehow consumers need to be motivated to make such investments if utility investments are to be avoided.
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