HOW SOLAR POWER CAN IMPROVE HEALTHCARE IN RURAL INDIA

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has highlighted several existing systemic gaps in rural healthcare services in the country. Experts believe that transitioning to renewable energy will be beneficial and that is why nearly 20 leaders from think tanks, research groups, renewable energy companies, sustainable development organisations, and various other industries have made a case to the Government of India (GoI) to solarize all unelectrified sub-centres in rural India.

In their letter addressed to the government, the Ministry of Power, NITI Aayog, and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the representatives have emphasized the need for decentralized renewable energy. Over 39,000 sub-centres (the first contact point between the primary healthcare system and the community) which serve over 230 million people in India lack electricity.

A decentralized solar system can play a significant role in solving this problem quickly and in turn, can offer optimal healthcare to the patients. This is also a more affordable option as electricity can be provided using renewable energy for less than Rs. 30 (~$0.40) per person in initial capital expenditure.

According to the chief executive officer of Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN), an all India representative organisation to support, unify, and grow the decentralized clean energy sector in the country,

“Powering rural healthcare infrastructure with decentralized renewable energy is an obvious choice now and in the future. It complements the government’s goal of providing clean and seamless energy beyond households. Also, it gives healthcare workers options to access advanced technologies such as telemedicine, vaccine storage, baby-incubators, and many others. COVID-19 is a crisis and an opportunity to accelerate up-gradation of rural healthcare infrastructure to a higher level with access to reliable, clean energy.”

Adwait Joshi
CEO, CLEAN

Currently, the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (SAUBHAGYA) program focuses on electrifying all households in rural and urban areas using solar, but there is no dedicated program for the electrification of health centres. In the letter, four key interventions that the government can undertake are highlighted:

  • To expand the SAUBHAGYA program to include solarizing clinics in rural areas in the country.
  • To allocate dedicated funds for this initiative and include it in the national budget since the current budget has a combined allocation of $12.8 billion for renewable energy and healthcare. Considering the benchmark cost of Rs. 74 (~$0.98)/W for a solar PV system with a 3-hour storage per sub-centre, the country will be able to electrify all sub-centres for Rs. 6 billion (~$80 million), which is just 0.6% of the 2020-2021 energy and healthcare budget.
  • To ensure long-term operations and sustainability by working through existing structures for periodic operations and maintenance.
  • To promote innovation to develop more financially viable and energy-efficient medical equipment to alleviate some of the financial burdens on these rural clinics.

“Sustainable health infrastructure that leverages innovative, decentralized, and energy-efficient solutions will bring huge dividends for health in rural India. Transitioning to renewable energies across healthcare operations will ensure efficient service delivery and improved health outcomes.”

Dr. Poornima Prabhakaran
deputy director, Centre for Environmental Health, public health foundation of India (PHFI)

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