This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Upendra Tripathy, recently retired Secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India, sees tremendous opportunities for social entrepreneurs to play a role in expanding renewable energy there.
Tripathy retired on October 31, 2016 from the top policy position in the Ministry. During his tenure, he oversaw a 400 percent increase in carbon tax in the country. He also led the five-fold increase in the 2022 target for solar power in the country from 20,000 to 100,000 megawatts. While he acknowledges that he is not a social entrepreneur, he notes that he has put policies into place that support social entrepreneurship.
According to freelance writer and creative consultant, Ashok Choudhury, who lives in Delhi, Tripathy has been widely recognized for leading change in the Ministry during his two-and-a-half year tenure.
Tripathy explains that during his service, the government took three specific actions to support renewable energy entrepreneurship. First, the government set up a regulatory infrastructure to encourage the establishment of micro-grids. Second, policies were created to encourage commercial rooftop solar projects on schools, hospitals and businesses. Third, social entrepreneurs and nonprofits were encouraged to increase their outreach to the public to get the country closer to universal access to electricity.
The last point hints at the underlying motivation for rapid adoption of renewable energy. As India is still a developing country, there are about 300 million people who lack access to electricity. Unlike the U.S., where the primary motivation for renewable energy is to reduce carbon emissions, the need to expand access to electricity is a primary motivator in India.
Choudhury notes that Tripathy organized the 2015 RE-INVEST conference, calling it a “game changer” for entrepreneurs. The conference led to a variety of commitments from both the private and public sector, including plans to build 277 Gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy. The government committed to build 175 GW, including 100 GW of solar, he says.
Choudhury says, “More important was the structuring of the 100 GW of solar into 40 GW in solar parks, 40 GW in rooftop and 20 GW in distributed space. Big entrepreneurs came in to solar parks. Thirty-four solar parks have been sanctioned so far all over India. More are in the pipeline. Rooftop has taken a big leap and many new and small time entrepreneurs are joining the solar journey in the form of channel partners, companies and NGOs.”
Tripathy says there are already about 800 micro grids operating in India. He offers some tips for social entrepreneurs wanting to expand access to electricity using solar and other renewable energy sources in India, especially in rural villages.
First, he says, mini-grid entrepreneurs need to look for anchor tenants with resources to help defray the capital and operating costs so they don’t fall entirely on the poor. He offers examples: “Mobile towers, remote hospitals, or tourist homes if any,” adding, “In such cases, you can cross subsidize the tariff of the poor from your income from the anchor point who can pay more.”
Tripathy points out, “Mobile tower connectivity is a win-win situation. The owners save costly fossil fuel and carbon footprint, create employment and promote energy access.”
His second tip for social entrepreneurs is to scan the environment, referring to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He says, “Meet peers, join national and sub national platforms, and use ‘Right to Information’ [rules] to understand what all benefits Governments (federal, provincial and local) give to that sector. The financial model should suitably incorporate all these features to make a successful social enterprise.”
Choudhury says, “For India, climate justice is an article of faith. Renewable energy is a part of climate justice as it reduces carbon footprint, brings in investment, creates employment, and secures the future of our future generations.”
On Monday, November 21, 2016 at 10:00 PM Eastern (8:30 Tuesday morning in India), Tripathy will join me for a live discussion about the opportunities being created in India for social entrepreneurs and the benefits they will in turn bring to the 300 million people in India who lack access to electricity. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.