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Guwahati: Climate change is adversely affecting Assam– leading to a surge in natural disasters, floods, and extreme rainfall in some regions, and drought-like conditions in others. These risks are projected to become more extreme and uncertain with mainly impacting the economically poor and socially disadvantaged.

Communities across Assam need to build resilience to climate change which requires access to basic services such as healthcare, education, water, and productive livelihood opportunities. All these rely on an affordable, reliable, and sustainable supply of electricity. A new World Resources Institute report Powering Development in Climate Vulnerable Areas: The Role of Decentralised Solar Solutions in Indiaexamines the impacts of climate-related events on electricity needs and analyses 14 decentralised solar energy systems installed in the community-level healthcare, education, and livelihood facilities in climate-vulnerable regions across three states. The report provides a checklist of technical, economic, and financial considerations that can improve the resilience of energy access solutions in climate-vulnerable areas.

Key findings of this report:

  • Climate change can affect the level and type of demand for electricity. Extreme events can disrupt the existing electricity supply, leading to demand for alternate or backup electricity sources. Communities rely on electricity to respond to these events and, also need electricity for activities that help cope with such events. In Bongaigaon, Assam, UN agencies and local NGOs are bringing solar-powered farm-level cold storage to women farmers who have lost seeds and harvests due to erratic monsoon. This new electricity requirement is a direct consequence of climate change and its impact on precipitation patterns and intensity. In North Lakhimpur, a local NGO has solarised a flood-relief shelter where people can take shelter, listen to the news, and charge mobile phones to stay connected with the outside world.
  • Resilience planning should be tailored to local conditions and should start before the design stage and continue after instalment. Design of the energy system and its operation and maintenance planning should be based on local socioeconomic and ecosystem assessments, policies, climate-risk data and models, and design standards that promote and enforce resilient infrastructure. Climate-resilient design needs to translate into the funding plan as well, with innovative financing and risk hedging models. Planners need to consider operational issues under extreme weather conditions such as quick response mechanisms, long term maintenance, and financial components (including insurance and community ownership) before installing energy solutions. Solar panels usually last for 20 to 30 years, the supporting infrastructure and arrangements need to last at least the same amount of time. 
  • While decentralised solar systems can help overcome the challenges from a risk-prone grid, they are not entirely climate-proof themselves. Components of decentralised solar solutions are vulnerable to climate-related events such as floods, lightning, extreme temperature, and rainfall. Understanding and planning for climate risks in advance can help reduce downtime, loss of assets, and build resilience.

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The uncertainty created by climate change requires all stakeholders to be more flexible and responsive. This report provides guidance for implementing agencies from the development sector – government and non-government, vendors, funding agencies, and policymakers – on designing and maintaining decentralised solar installations in climate-vulnerable areas of Assam and other developing areas.

WRI India is working in Assam to create awareness on the role of electricity in ensuring service delivery in the sectors of health, education, and livelihoods – with a specific focus on meeting the needs of climate-vulnerable areas. In 2021, the project will catalyse the implementation of several pilot projects to improve convergence across sectors through partner organisations in the state. Based on the experience of the pilot interventions, the project will provide inputs to state and national policy on development, climate resilience and electricity provision.

For further information, contact:

Masfick Hazarika, Energy Program, WRI India : +91 7036702674

Nitya Kaushik, CommunicationsWRI, +91 9819902763

WRI report Powering Development in Climate Vulnerable Areas: The Role of Decentralised Solar Solutions in India identifies technical, economic, and financial considerations that can bolster solar energy solutions in vulnerable areas.

About WRI

World Resources Institute (WRI) is a global research organisation that spans more than 50 countries, with offices in 12 countries including Brazil, China, Europe, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and the United States. Our more than 1,400 experts and other staff turn big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity, and human well-being across seven programs: food, forests, water, energy, cities, climate and the ocean and four centres of excellence for business, economics, finance and governance.

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