Every day, at least 400 million Indians lack access to electricity. Another nearly 700 million Indians joined their fellows in energy poverty over the course of the last few days, or roughly 10 percent of the world’s population.
Oddly enough, some of the formerly energy poor—rural villagers throughout the subcontinent—found themselves better off than their middle-class compatriots during the recent blackouts, thanks to village homes outfitted with photovoltaic panels. In fact, solar power helped keep some electric pumps supplying water for fields parched by an erratic monsoon this year.
That monsoon is partly to blame for the blackouts as well. A lack of rain has meant a reduction in power from India’s hydroelectric dams. Pair that with problems with the supply of coal to burn and the northern half of India found itself with not enough electricity supply to meet demand. One ironic anecdote illustrates this conundrum nicely: coal miners in northern India were trapped when their electric lifts failed as a result of the blackout exacerbated by a lack of coal.
The thirst for electricity stems from burgeoning demand from India’s middle class, which has embraced everything from air conditioning and the electric-powered subway trains of New Delhi. India also enjoys some of the highest rates of what is known in the trade as “non-technical losses,” i.e. people hijacking electric supplies and not paying for it (as opposed to “technical losses,” like the amount of electricity lost via the physics of transmission itself and the like.) And then there are the politically popular programs like providing free power to farmers for irrigation pumps.