I was woken abruptly at 5.30 am today by the shrieking of next door’s burglar alarm. This had been triggered by a power cut I realised when I saw the flashing light on our clock radio. Sunshine was streaming through the gap in the curtains and I was wide awake, with time to reflect on the nature and consequences of power outages.
Power cuts are not unusual but can have dramatic consequences. This was seen in Northern India earlier this week when 700 million people were cut off, traffic came to a stand still and hundreds of miners were trapped underground.
But for one third of India’s population, lack of power is nothing new, they have no access to electricity at any time. This makes it very hard for people to develop businesses that can help them to work their way out of poverty and for children to study in the evenings. And the lack of alternative forms of energy means that people use cooking fuels that emit toxic smoke, such as wood, dung or charcoal. These cause ill health and often death from respiratory infections, especially for women and children.
Solutions exist to this problem. Practical Action works with communities to help improve poor people’s access through small-scale, low-cost, off-grid electricity supply and through improving the efficiency of cooking stoves.
While Indian politician struggle to shift blame to each other for its electricity supply problems, a lack of capacity is likely to continue to trigger cuts. Energy investment, not only in India but throughout the world, must consider the needs of the poorest as well as the increasing demands of the energy hungry middle classes.