Is high quality technological solution a myth?

How do you define high quality? Is it merely the quality of being superior? Or, is it a superior offering, which is easily accessible and acceptable to consumers?

In the context of dissemination of renewable energy technologies and enabling the poor consumers (at the bottom of pyramid) to have access to ‘high quality’ renewable energy technologies, the task of defining ‘high quality’ for consumers’ acceptability is further difficult.

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Figure: High Quality Framework

 It is particularly true as most of the hi-fi renewable energy technologies are expensive (beyond the purchasing power of rural poor), it demands high level of maintenance, knowledge to operate such devices and importantly it is not readily available in the local market, because of which, it needs to be imported from outside. Eventually, this import process creates negative market forces, which does not allow local enterprises for developing a regional and national market in the renewable energy with local innovation and market –led solution to the poverty alleviation.

A picture of this kind is noticed in case of the micro-scale renewable energy technologies, including the improved cookstove technology. Although, we have the Lima Consensus, followed by the ISO standardization initiative for the cookstove sector, however, it is found that the parameters used for this high quality standardization is purely based on indoor air-pollution, safety, GHG reduction, thermal efficiency etc. This initiative does not include parameters such as a pricing index based on broad principle of affordability of stoves as per the income level of people or country’s economic situation like poverty level, GDP, Purchasing power parity etc.

A technological solution is outmoded and not relevant for poor countries if it cannot be accessible to people at an affordable price without compromising with the superior technological dimensions. The question is-how to make it happen then, at a low price with best technical solutions?

It is assumed that private sector involvement in the micro-scale renewable energy sector could be the game changer, which could ensure high quality RET solution at affordable price. Global private sector players with an interest in micro-scale RETs should partner with the local and regional small and medium enterprise for take up this challenge. A mass production at the regional level is also the key to reduce the cost as well as maintain uniformity in the standard of RETs.

One major bottleneck for this initiative could be the limited capacities of local and regional level SMEs to carry out this profit making (profit for purpose) intervention with a market-led approach. International development organizations should come forward to bridge up this gap by providing capacity building services in the business management and institutional development to the SMEs. Indeed, to have a spark effect on private sector involvement and promoting high quality RETs, local government should also have conducive policies for private sector involvement.  In absence of such policies, high quality RETs would be transformed into a myth and an unfulfilled dream.

Keshav C Das

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