Solarizing India’s Healthcare System

By Aryan D’Rozario
In April 2020, representatives of India’s healthcare and renewable energy sectors wrote a letter to the Indian government requesting swift action for solarizing around 39,000 health centers across rural India. Chhattisgarh is an Indian state that solarized most of its health centers. However, to successfully replicate Chhattisgarh’s policies on a pan-India scale, other states must formalize cooperation between health departments, energy departments, and distribution companies (discoms) to identify health centers in need of solarization. In addition, states must encourage the union government to take a more active role in drafting policies and aggregating solar power at lower costs.
Solarization of health clinics should be pursued on a pan-India basis to ensure that state-owned health centers are self-reliant. Solarization of clinics can help India achieve its ambitious solar energy goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) by 2022. Currently, India has only installed 40.6GW of solar power. 
Chhattisgarh offers a model for other states to follow. The state is home to 790 functioning primary health centers, many of which face regular power outages at peak patient times during the day (from 12 pm to 4 pm).  The state embarked on an innovative green energy path to make health centers more efficient by using solar power. Chhattisgarh installed two kilowatts peak (kWp) off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) rooftop systems across 570 primary health care centers (around 72 percent of all functioning centers) through the Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA).
To achieve these goals, Chhattisgarh has important lessons to share, based on a report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water:
  1. Prioritize health centers that do not have reliable sources of electricity: CREDA’s approach targets centers that have a power deficit. By installing solar rooftop panels, these health centers have a better source of energy, especially during peak hours when these clinics see the most patients and solar energy is at its highest potential due to central India’s climate. 
  2. Establish solar as the primary mode of supply: The patient load at health centers in rural areas is highest during the day which makes a compelling case for the use of off-grid solar as a primary mode of electricity, as opposed to an on-grid system (which remains the secondary mode). The solar panels store enough sunlight during the day, using the excess power generated at night. 
  3. Institutionalize maintenance services: State renewable energy departments or project developers must monitor, repair, and replace solar panels once installed. A proper institutional arrangement will ensure a more robust system because health centers do not specialize in maintenance and require an all-encompassing provider.
  4. Cost-saving benefits: Using the excess power generated, clinics can install cold-chain equipment which is perfect for storing vaccines. The staff quarters, canteens, and water filtration units can be solar-powered. These measures will help lower costs.
To replicate Chhattisgarh’s success on a pan-India scale, states must encourage: 
  1. Dialogue between stakeholders: The state renewable energy departments, health departments, and discoms must collaborate to create a concrete plan of action. A state policy that formalizes dialogue between these entities will be helpful. 
  2. Cooperation of discoms: Solarization of state-owned entities will be to the benefit of discoms, which struggle to recover costs from state-owned entities like health centers.
  3. Central government initiative: The union government must take the initiative to draft policies and allocate resources state-wise as it has done for the PM-KUSUM scheme which solarizes agricultural pumps. 
  4. Center to aggregate solar power: Indian states do not have the same access to supply chains as the union government which can procure at better rates. The union government is quite capable of aggregation, as seen in the UJALA scheme, when light bulbs were procured through large orders, driving down prices significantly. 
The solarization of state-owned health centers at the sub-national level will help India achieve clean energy targets. It will also create a sustainable health system with access to reliable electricity, especially in rural communities. 
Aryan D’Rozario is an intern with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies