Quick Take: Let Them Use Flashlights

Wiring rural India for electricity is inefficient and a wasted investment. We wonder what rural Indians think about that?

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Well, here’s an interesting viewpoint.

U.S. environmentalist Michael Shellenberger says India shouldn’t put too much effort into electrifying rural parts of the country. If rural electrification succeeds, rural people will become a little wealthier and then, guess what? They will want to move to the city. This is according to a story in NewsGram.com.

Investing in conventional or solar rural electrification is inefficient, Shellenberger is quoted as saying:

“You have limited amount of money you can spend on these things. [Investing in urban factories] is simply going to deliver more in terms of human development and economic growth in that same amount of money than a solar micro-grid in a countryside ….

“Yes [rural electrification] can provide lighting etc., but it’s not adding productivity to the economy.”

Back in the early part of the 20th century, the private electric companies that didn’t want to spend money on electrifying rural America used similar arguments. Rural people, however, felt differently when they began using electricity for a lot more than lights: electric milking machines, incubators, irons, well-water pumps (city dwellers just don’t know what it’s like to have your water stop when the power goes out), hot water, and, today, computers, server farms, and manufacturing. What a waste, huh?

I don’t know the context of Shellenberger’s remarks. And we will assume there’s a way to look at his statement — somehow — that doesn’t mean he thinks we should write off rural parts of the globe. After all, some folks like to live there. And someone has to milk the cows. By hand, apparently.

— Tim Marema, Editor

 

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