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The Rockefeller Foundation Launches ‘Smart Power for Rural Development’ Initiative

NEW DELHI—The Rockefeller Foundation today launched ‘Smart Power for Rural Development,’ an initiative that aims to bring electricity to 1,000 villages over the coming three years, providing power to 1 million Indians in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. To achieve this ambitious goal, The Rockefeller Foundation is funding the creation of a new organization—”Smart Power India”—responsible for expanding the Smart Power model which uses mini-grid technology for both lighting and productive use. Headquartered in New Delhi, and led by CEO Jaideep Mukherji, Smart Power India aims to promote economic development in rural areas by providing access to reliable energy from green sources.

The launch was marked with a ceremonial event in New Delhi attended by distinguished dignitaries, including, Shri Piyush Goyal, Minister of State for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy, senior officials from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, officials from public sector utilities, senior officials from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, heads of telecom infrastructure companies, energy service companies, research organisations, think tanks, and academia.

Speaking at the launch of initiative, Shri Piyush Goyal, minister of power, has commented that, “The reality of the energy sector in India is that large parts of the country have remained isolated from a basic level of comfort, a basic level of development. The fact that The Rockefeller Foundation is investing in sustainable energy frameworks is exciting. A million people, is a lot of people, even in a country like India. If implemented effectively, and I have full confidence that it will, this initiative can have a tremendous effect. We are open to all ideas and we look to foundations and organisations such as The Rockefeller Foundation, to learn from their varied experience and to improve the quality of life of rural populations in India. I think that The Rockefeller Foundation has always been a pioneer for new movements. I hope we can take this initiative on the fast track and truly effect change to our communities.”

The Smart Power for Rural Development initiative aligns closely with the Indian government’s vision of providing access to reliable power throughout the country and is backed by a commitment of US$ 75 million from The Rockefeller Foundation. The initiative’s focus will be on India and it aims to promote sustainable business models that deliver renewable energy and spur economic development among an unreached rural population. Smart Power India will partner with energy service companies (ESCOs), telecom tower operators, investors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies to provide 1,000 villages with access to power in the next three years.

Dr. Judith Rodin, president, The Rockefeller Foundation said, “The Rockefeller Foundation is thrilled to launch Smart Power for Rural Development in India, with the goal of providing access to electricity and transforming the lives of one million people in 1000 villages in rural India. Every step towards increasing rural access to modern energy sources can help India reach its full economic potential. We believe the provision of power will open up greater opportunities for economic development in rural areas- paving the way for a more inclusive economy. The Smart Power model we are launching today is a unique market based innovation that can support India as it achieves its ambitious electrification goals.”

The Smart Power model is an innovative way to deliver clean energy via decentralized mini-grids. The mini-grids provide market opportunities to investors and will be able to integrate into the national grid system which the government is extending. Under the Smart Power model, an anchor tenant, for example a telecom company operating local cell towers, would serve as the base demand for power and make it profitable for an Energy Service Company Operator (ESCO) to build a power plant which is large enough to serve both lighting and productive loads. With this structure in place, the ESCO is willing to go into rural communities and is able to sell power to local businesses and households—thus meeting the need for various uses of power—lighting, productive loads (such as carpenters, agricultural loads—irrigation, grinding mills) and other business needs benefiting new and future local businesses and homes.

The provision of power to the selected villages is expected to open up significant opportunities for economic development and improving livelihoods. Those affected will see improved access to education, opportunities to trade and do business, access to key information services and improved healthcare services—all spurred on by access to reliable energy.

Smart Power India, a new Indian led organization based in Delhi, will be The Rockefeller Foundation’s key partner in working with energy service companies, private sector partners, investors, NGOs, and the Indian government to reach the goal of bringing electricity to underserved villages in India. Smart Power India, will provide support for the entire ecosystem needed for mini-grids to be successful, sustainable, and scalable. Prior to joining Smart Power India, CEO Jaideep Mukherji spent two and a half years with d.light, a local social enterprise that works to bring affordable solar lighting devices to people in the developing world. Mr. Mukherji has a proven track record and over 30 years of experience in innovation and market development.

Jaideep Mukherji, CEO, Smart Power India said, “After the last few years spent in the renewable energy space, I am thrilled to take on the new role as CEO of Smart Power India. The Smart Power model is an innovative solution for what has been an intractable problem in India. We have a unique opportunity at this time given that the government is supporting investments in rural electrification to spur economic development. The telecom revolution and the proliferation of cell towers, and the private sector partners looking for new avenues for investment can also address social challenges. Now is the time for India to have an energy revolution, and I believe the Smart Power model stands at the forefront of supporting that vision.”

About Smart Power India

To successfully implement the 1,000 Village Plan, The Rockefeller Foundation is funding the development of Smart Power India, a new Indian run entity led by CEO Jaideep Mukherji, designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders critical to developing the ecosystem needed to build, catalyze, create, and scale-up the market. Smart Power India has four distinct functions:

  • Project development support to assist ESCOs in structuring their engagement in terms of financing, business modeling, village and cluster selection, procurement, training, and so on.
  • Business development and facilitation of agreements with telecom tower companies, ESCOs, investors, and technology and equipment providers.
  • Load development & community engagement to ensure strong local buy-in, economic development, and sustained demand for power.
  • Policy and regulatory engagement to align incentives between government, investors, and ESCOs and reduce risk in the long-term by supporting the creation of viable grid-interactive models.

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About The Rockefeller Foundation

Endowed by John D. Rockefeller and chartered in 1913, The Rockefeller Foundation is one of America’s oldest private foundations. For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Today, The Rockefeller Foundation pursues this mission through dual goals: advancing inclusive economies that expand opportunities for more broadly shared prosperity, and building resilience by helping people, communities and institutions prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from acute shocks and chronic stresses.

The Rockefeller Foundation has had a long commitment to funding and working in India, dating back to the Foundation’s first field visits in 1920 by officers of its early health initiatives. The Foundation’s presence in India increased significantly in the 1960s when the Indian government invited The Rockefeller Foundation’s Norman Borlaug to assess the country’s wheat program, greatly improving crop yields. The Foundation went on to create a rice program and train scientists through fellowships, all contributing to what became known as the Green Revolution, which fed more than 1 billion people in Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Over the last twenty years, the Foundation has provided nearly US$ 100 million to impact the lives of the most vulnerable people in India, most recently through a flagship program to promote the resilience of cities to climate-related stress and shocks through the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN).

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