India's younger population is growing quickly, and with that comes a greater demand for energy. Despite an ambitious rural energy program, 400 million people still live without access to elecricity. Approximately one-third of the world's urban residents live in slums. In the city of Mumbai, about half of it's residents (roughly 8 million people) live in these slums. Access to electricity can raise the quality of life dramatically, where now it is hard to do simple tasks such as reading and cooking. Many families must choose between putting food on the table or keeping the electricity running. The desperation resulting from this situation has led to a major problem of people stealing the energy.
In fact, stealing energy is fairly simple to do, all you need is a few twists of some wire and voila! You've got yourself power. Many people offer to hook you up, but the problem (other than the obvious thievery) is that they will usually charge more than the regular energy companies will. The energy companies will typically charge around 300 rupees a month for three power plugs. But that is even a problem for many families. The culture of payment in many rural areas does not include paying on a regular schedule. Many families have odd and end jobs that don't bring in a regular salary. But with these problems, and the fact that 3-5% of firms total revenue is lost to these thieves, what is a possible solution?
Many energy companies around the world are hesitant because these slums are very remote or expensive to reach, and the demand per house is small. But as demand rises, I believe it would be a smart idea to try. As they send out their security teams to find the illegal wires, they will mention that a power meter would be cheaper. If the firms educate the people in these slums then they can expand their base and the costs will be worth it. A simple lack of communication can cause many unnecessary problems.
An even better solution that fits very well in slums and in Mumbai's climate, are clean renewable distributed generation projects. Installing vertical axis wind turbines or using solar energy are ideas that will be easy and potentially more efficient than power lines. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have both extended lines of credit to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency for projects just like this. If you get a bank to distribute microcredits, such as the Grameen Bank, for these projects, then it will greatly increase the living conditions to those in the rural areas and slums of the world.