Australian High Commission
New Delhi
India, Bhutan

Deputy High Commissioner Rod Hilton's Address to the India Distributed Energy Forum and Expo

                                                                                     Inauguration of India Distributed Energy Forum and Expo

                                                       Special Address by Mr Rod Hilton, Deputy Australian High Commissioner to India

                                                                                          Wednesday 30 January 2019, Taj Palace, New Delhi

(check against delivery)

Good afternoon everyone.  

Thank you very much to the organisers:

  • The Voice of the Off-Grid Solar Energy Industry, and its partners
  • To the International Finance Corporation
  • Lighting Asia / India, and
  • The Ashden India Collective

for inviting me to be part of this first India Distributed Energy Forum and Expo.

It is my pleasure to acknowledge:

  • Mr Koen Peters, Executive Director, GOGLA
  • Mrs Sarah Butler-Sloss, Founder Director, Ashden
  • Mr Jun Zhang, IFC Country Manager for India
  • The important support that has been received from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy
  • The major sponsors – d.light; signify; and sun king

(Introduction: energy security and improved development outcomes)

We all know that electricity demand is growing rapidly in South Asia. With high projected economic growth rates across the region, this demand will continue to rise.

Access to reliable and affordable energy is crucial to trade, economic growth and development. It will transform the lives of the many millions of people who live without electricity by powering homes, schools, clinics, irrigation systems and water purifiers. This will improve social and economic outcomes, and in turn contribute to a more stable and secure Indo-Pacific region.

Increasing energy access is at the core of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy). But importantly, it also underpins many of the other goals including those relating to poverty, hunger, education, gender equality, water and sanitation, and sustainable cities and communities.

(The role of distributed energy in meeting energy demand)

The good news is that more and more people are gaining access to electricity. However, access is only part of the challenge, and reliability has emerged as a major concern. Electricity grids are struggling to guarantee supply to meet this increasing demand, especially during peak periods.

To meet demand, and also mitigate current shortages, electricity supply systems in India and the South Asia region will need to be significantly expanded.

As this expo demonstrates, decentralised, community-generated energy resources, which can be connected to the grid at distribution level, have a very significant role to play in meeting this challenge.

(How Lighting Asia/India is supporting increased energy access)

The International Finance Corporation’s Lighting Asia/India Program aims to increase access to clean, affordable energy in rural India by promoting modern off-grid lighting products and systems, and efficient DC appliances. The program works with the private sector to remove market entry barriers, provide market intelligence, foster business-to-business linkages and raise consumer awareness on modern lighting options.

Lighting Asia/India has helped demonstrate the contribution that micro solar-based equipment and appliances can make to addressing energy poverty and access in India. To date, nearly 18 million people have gained access to basic modern and affordable energy services, and significant advances have been achieved in the quality and the cost of portable solar technologies under the program.

It has also led to the development of organic entrepreneurship throughout the supply chain and developed new businesses at the community level.

The program has had a particular impact on the lives of women, whom we know are disproportionately affected by lack of access to electricity: there are increased burdens on women’s time by adding to their household responsibilities, which in turn reduces their opportunities to earn income. Women are also more exposed to health risks from kerosene oil and other fuel based lighting sources.

Through Lighting Asia/India, women have become key catalysts of the modern off-grid lighting revolution.  Many of the local supply chains are owned and operated by woman and are delivering both improved gender and financial outcomes. To give just a couple of examples:

  • Lighting Asia/India helped Frontier Markets to develop and enhance a new business model in Rajasthan of working with women entrepreneurs to expand the distribution footprint and bring clean energy to rural areas. These women entrepreneurs (Solar Sahelis) earn an average of $US 450 – or around 32,000 Indian Rupees - more per year.
  • Another example is Dharma Life which, with assistance from the program, has successfully trained over 7700 entrepreneurs since 2016, of whom over 95 per cent are women. These women have become social change makers in their villages.

I am proud to say that Australia has been supporting the Lighting Asia/India program since 2014. We are not the only ones, and other contributors are highlighted on the board behind me.

Australia is also working closely with the IFC to drive large-scale private sector led investments. In India, this includes the 750 Megawatt Rewa Ultra Mega solar project in Madhya Pradesh. Industries such as textiles in Bangladesh, the Indian Railways, sugar mills in Nepal, and industrial estates in Pakistan are also investing in distributed energy and supplying power to the grid.

(India as a leader in renewable energy including distributed generation)

While the primary focus of this forum is to highlight the benefits and opportunities of small-scale portable solar technologies, it is important to view these within the system-wide benefits of promoting grid connected distributed generation technologies.

India can play – and is playing – a global leadership role in developing more integrated and cost effective energy systems. India has recently revised upwards its renewable energy targets. Its success over the last 18 months in adding large-scale grid connected solar, of around 10 Gigawatts, has helped create investor confidence in the long-term stability of the sector.

India has also demonstrated that renewable distributed generation technologies not only work and are reliable, but also that it can be done at a lower cost than alternative fossil fuel based technologies.

With its huge local market and strong manufacturing capabilities, India has the potential to become a global leader for distributed standalone solar energy solutions, by becoming a hub for innovations in technology and business models. You, the participants here today, will be key to this.

In this vein, I also acknowledge India’s leadership, together with France, in spearheading the International Solar Alliance. The Alliance intends to bring together solar resource rich countries to implement large-scale programmes such as solar agricultural pumps, promising affordable and reliable access to energy and mobilising finance for deployment of these technologies. The Alliance will play an instrumental role in carving a path for solar technologies – including those that are exhibited at this forum - to be rolled out across the South Asia Region.  Australia is very proud and honoured to be a founding member.

(Energy storage systems - Australia’s comparative advantage)

While these developments are exciting, integration of renewable power in electricity grids is a challenge. For distributed clean energy generation to reach its full economic potential, countries need to invest in developing systems that can effectively integrate these technologies while maintaining system supply reliability.

Talk of energy reliability would not be complete without covering battery storage. I am pleased to note that Australia is leading the way in residential battery storage - in 2017, three times as many systems were installed in Australia as in 2016. Australia is proud to have installed the world’s largest lithium ion battery – 100 Megawatts - in South Australia. Another big battery has just become live in South Australia. These have been effective in reducing peak energy prices and improving system stability.

With climate change making weather patterns more extreme and less predictable, storage systems will be essential for energy reliability. Much of Australia has just suffered through our most prolonged and intense heatwave on record, with temperatures in some metropolitan areas reaching almost 50 degrees celsius. Battery storage systems are helping cope with the increased demand.

Parts of India are projected to be exposed to increasing levels of extreme heat in the coming years, and Australia is committed to sharing the experience and expertise from our government, industry and research institutions to help develop solutions.

(The role of industry players)

Traditional government and donor approaches to energy access and reliability have been relatively expensive and dependent on subsidies to make them affordable. That is why it is so critical that industry and the private sector are playing an increasingly prominent role.

Private sector driven programs, such as Lighting Asia /India, are offering new more sustainable business models that can quickly be taken to scale. Such programs do not rely on subsides which make them more affordable for end-use consumers.

(Energy efficiency)

I mentioned some of the large-scale private sector led investments that IFC is driving in South Asia. Through these, and other programs, IFC has demonstrated the significant benefits that can be achieved through energy efficiency and distributed generation. In particular, energy efficiency can help meet future demand, improve system reliability, facilitate the integration of renewable energy – and of course lower costs for end users. 

Australia is considered a world leader in energy efficiency standards. For many years we have had mandatory standards for household appliances, industrial equipment, and buildings.  These standards are regularly updated to reflect technology trends. They have delivered impressive economic returns and resulted in a substantial reduction in energy costs to both households and business.

While India has a range of energy efficiency standards in place, these remain largely voluntary. Government, manufacturers and industry, along with all participants here today, have an important role to decide if a move to mandatory standards can be achieved, given the significant economic benefits this would deliver.


If the Indo-Pacific is to have greater energy security, we must continue to build our economic relationships, promote more open markets, and increase trade, investment and people-to-people links among our countries. That is why forums and expos like this one are so important.

I’m excited to get the opportunity to look around the exhibits here today and to learn more about the innovative developments that are emerging.

I congratulate the organisers, speakers and exhibitors, and commend all of you on your participation and commitment to advance the economic and social development of the South Asia region, through improved energy security.

It is my absolute pleasure to formally open the first India Distributed Energy Forum and Expo. Thank you again and all the best for a successful event.