Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians

Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians
A worker cleans photovoltaic solar panels inside a solar power plant at Raisan village near Gandhinagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians

Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians
  • As India boosts its use of renewable energy in an effort to wean itself off climate-heating coal, the country is leaning heavily on solar energy to cut carbon emissions and help stabilize a grid squeezed by coal shortages

AITAWADE BUDRUK, India: Going to the bank in his home village in western India used to be a slow, frustrating process for Kiran Patil, as frequent power cuts — sometimes lasting for days — turned what should have been a quick errand into a lengthy ordeal.
The 59-year-old farmer often had to wait for hours in line at RBL Bank, his local branch in the village of Aitawade Budruk, or abandon his transaction and return the next day, wasting time he should have been spending cultivating his crops.
All that changed after the building was fitted with a set of solar panels and backup storage batteries in 2018, breaking the bank’s reliance on the power grid and giving it a steady supply of clean electricity.
“The transactions now are so smooth and fast,” Patil told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “These days we even find time for a quick chat with the branch manager over a cup of tea, to learn of the latest services and facilities.”
A more reliable banking experience is also bringing in new customers who previously didn’t have the time for long waits or who worried about never knowing when they would be able to access their money.
Since the solar power system was installed at RBL in Aitawade Budruk, the bank has been opening 25 to 30 new accounts every month — 10 times more than before, said branch manager Sandeep Banne.
As India boosts its use of renewable energy in an effort to wean itself off climate-heating coal, the country is leaning heavily on solar energy to cut carbon emissions and help stabilize a grid squeezed by coal shortages and surging demand from a population trying to keep cool during hotter summers.
But some communities have discovered another benefit to the solar power push: greater financial system access for millions of the country’s unbanked, including the estimated 20 percent of Indian adults, who have no access to a bank account or formal line of credit.
Raghuraman Chandrasekaran, founder and CEO of E-Hands Energy, the Chennai-based firm that set up the solar unit in Aitawade Budruk, said his company has installed such systems at more than 920 rural banks across India, helping bring more than 6 million people into the formal banking system.
The company plans to install units at up to 100 more rural branches before the end of the year, he said.
“Citizens in rural areas were walking or spending their precious money to transport themselves from their villages to the nearest bank branch, then waiting (there) for hours … simply because the bank did not have electricity all day and the computers could not work,” said Chandrasekaran.
“It was all misery.”

MODERN BANKING
The three-kilowatt solar power system at the Aitawade Budruk branch — which runs everything from the fans and lights to computers and alarm systems — means the bank now has reliable power about 95 percent of the time, said Banne, the branch manager.
On cloudy days, backup storage batteries take over, he said.
Firms like E-Hands Energy, Tata Power Solar and Husk Power Systems have so far outfitted more than 2,000 banks in rural India with solar power, estimates Shyam Kumar Garg, who retired as deputy general manager at the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development last October.
The systems feed into India’s efforts to install 500 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2030, up from about 115 GW now, more than half of which is solar.
E-Hands Energy’s manager of operations Kakumanu Prathap Sagar said the solar systems the company has installed at banks around India is helping cut about 3,000 tons of carbon emissions every year.
Going solar can cut costs, too, said Banne at RBL in Aitawade Budruk, noting that the branch now spends a fraction of what it used to for grid electricity and diesel for its backup generators.
The solar systems cost between 130,000 and 150,000 Indian rupees ($1,650 to $1,900) for installation and maintenance for four years, and pay for themselves in about four years, he added.
For villagers, the biggest benefit is finally being able to use government services they never had access to before, said Pratibha Budruk, head of the Aitawade Budruk’s village council.
When the bank suffered power cuts and frequent loss of Internet connectivity, payments of pensions, students’ scholarships, loans and insurance were often delayed, putting a strain on people who relied on the money, Budruk said.
“The changeover of rural banks to solar power … has opened the doors of modern banking facilities for our local villagers,” she said.

SOLAR POWER CHALLENGES
In a country where 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas, according to the World Bank, switching rural banks to solar power might even slow the migration of young people from villages to cities as more economic opportunities at home arise, said energy management expert Binoy Krishna Choudhury.
“Solarising banks is a good step to developing the rural economy,” said Choudhury, who teaches at the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management in Kolkata.
But projects to bring solar panels to rural banks face a raft of obstacles, said Russell deLucia, director and founder of the Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund, a US-based nonprofit.
Potential hurdles include finding ways to transport and install the equipment in far flung, often off-road locations, said deLucia, whose company helps E-Hands raise funding for its solar power projects.
Once the systems are up and running, finding skilled technicians nearby to fix anything that goes wrong is another issue, he said.
Despite those challenges, Budruk, the village council head, wants to see more banks tap into solar power as a way to both improve the lives of rural communities and limit worsening climate change impacts such as extreme heat.
“Installing solar systems in the banks is like planting trees throughout the year for purifying the air we breathe,” she said.
“When the whole world is trying hard to slow global warming and the impacts of climate change, this is a small contribution from our village.”


Gasoline price to shape EV demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC

Gasoline price to shape EV  demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC
Updated 6 min 6 sec ago

Gasoline price to shape EV demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC

Gasoline price to shape EV  demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC
  • KSA has implemented energy price reforms to unlock economic and environmental benefits for the country

RIYADH: Growing gasoline prices will play a significant role in increasing the demand for electric vehicles in the Kingdom, according to Anwar Gasim, a King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center researcher.

“The higher the domestic gasoline price, the more a consumer may be incentivized to switch to an electric vehicle,” he told Arab News.

According to Gasim, gasoline prices in the Kingdom seven years ago were a quarter of today’s prices.

“If you look at the 91-octane gasoline, it was SR0.45 ($0.12) per liter. Today, it’s SR2.18,” Gasim said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Since 2016, the Kingdom has implemented energy price reforms to unlock economic and environmental benefits for the country.

“Since gasoline prices ended up getting linked with the international price, the government had to put a cap on them when international prices went up very high last year,” said Gasim.

It means there is a limit that domestic gasoline prices will not surpass, no matter how high energy prices may hike internationally.

“I think it was becoming too high for people here, and then the government decided to put a cap,” he said.

According to Gasim, raising domestic energy prices can contribute to the Kingdom’s climate goals.

Saudi Arabia aims to reduce emissions and increase the share of renewables to 50 percent by 2030.

“Higher energy prices can incentivize more efficient behavior, more energy conservation, and therefore it can help save energy and reduce emissions,” he added.

KAPSARC was a part of the regulatory team led by the Ministry of Energy, which on Aug. 22 issued the completion of all legislative and technical aspects to regulate the EV charging market.

These stations will more likely charge the vehicles using the national grid. Still, there are possibilities that off-grid stations will be a requirement.

Some neighborhood distribution networks can no longer accommodate any additional load. They have reached the peak of the transformer capacity.

The only option is using off-grid solutions; renewable sources like solar and hydrogen can supply these off-grids.

Electromin, a wholly owned e-mobility turnkey solutions provider under Petromin, in May announced the rollout of electric vehicle charging points across the Kingdom.

In an earlier interview with Arab News, Kalyana Sivagnanam, the group CEO of Petromin, said that the network includes 100 locations across the Kingdom powered by a customer-centric mobile application.

Sivagnanam said that the company would set up most of its charging stations in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam and eventually branch out across the country.

Electromin’s charging network will offer a complete spectrum of services from AC chargers to DC fast and ultrafast chargers, catering to all customer segments.

The imports of EV charging equipment were permitted in the Kingdom in 2020.

As part of the Kingdom’s sustainability strategy, the Royal Commission of Riyadh launched an initiative last year to ensure that 30 percent of all vehicles in the capital would be powered by electricity by 2030.


Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP

Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP
Updated 30 September 2022

Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP

Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP

RIYADH: Saudia, Saudi Arabia’s national carrier, is aiming to integrate voice recognition technology and augmented reality to its services, the company announced during the second edition of the Global AI Summit held in Riyadh.

Saudia has signed an agreement, aimed at boosting artificial intelligence in the flight sector, with the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority and the Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence. Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the summit, Dr. Khaled Alhazmi, vice president of IT support and operations at Saudia, said that the agreement is the first step in introducing AI products to the airline’s services.

Alhazmi explained that the company is currently exploring voice recognition technology through one of SDAIA’s products, an app called SauTech.

“It is an amazing app; it currently gives accurate results for the recognition of the dialects of the Arabic language. And right now, we are trying to explore opportunities and use cases, to start implementing it in our services,” he said.

The company is also planning to adopt Internet of Things technology as well as augmented reality to ensure that they are first movers to implement AI into their services.

“Our strategic direction is to build an ecosystem of partners who would enable us to digitize our services to our customers. We are aiming to deliver a first-class experience to our customers,” he added.

Alhazmi believes that the digitalization factor currently in use at the airline such as downloading tickets to personal devices can be greatly expanded on, and that there are huge opportunities to integrate technology into the sector.

“We are digitizing everything under a program, which is adapting the digital first. Right now we believe that we need to put in use all the data science, all the technologies nowadays, and put them into the hands of the customer,” he said. The company wants to improve its self-service options by providing a personalized platform that will enable users to customize their journey according to their needs.

“That’s actually the main goal because we understand right now that we have a new generation of people who are more interested in technology, they are using technology every day,” he added.

Saudia has also recently partnered with agritech company Red Sea Farms to provide sustainable and high-quality meals for its customers.

“We can see that the adoption of technology in Saudi Arabia in general is getting more mature than other countries,” Alhazmi concluded.


Saudi budget surplus is calculated on $76 for brent price

Saudi budget surplus is calculated on $76 for brent price
Updated 30 September 2022

Saudi budget surplus is calculated on $76 for brent price

Saudi budget surplus is calculated on $76 for brent price
  • Real GDP growth is forecasted to increase by nearly 8 percent year-on-year in 2022 and 3.1 percent year-on-year in 2023

RIYADH: Based on the government budget figures, Al-Rajhi Capital assessed the government's 2023 budgeted revenues to likely be based on Brent at $76 per barrel.

Real GDP growth is forecasted to increase by nearly eight percent year-on-year in 2022 and 3.1 percent year-on-year in 2023, according to Al-Rajhi Capital.

Inflation is expected to be 2.6 percent and 2.1 percent in 2022 and 2023 respectively, Al-Rajhi said.

Revised 2022 revenues are mostly in line with estimates, however, the expenditure budget is much higher than from an earlier announcement, it said.

The 2023 spending budget was raised by 18 percent, with a slight fiscal surplus of SR9 billion expected for 2023.


Saudi Arabia to record a budget surplus of $24bn in 2022

Saudi Arabia to record a budget surplus of $24bn in 2022
Updated 01 October 2022

Saudi Arabia to record a budget surplus of $24bn in 2022

Saudi Arabia to record a budget surplus of $24bn in 2022
  • Total revenues expected to reach about SR1.12 trillion in 2023

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is expecting its budget surplus in 2022 to hit SR90 billion ($24 billion), and another SR9 billion next year, the Ministry of Finance announced on Friday.

Looking at the full year 2022 projections, real GDP is expected to grow by 8 percent, while the inflation in 2022 may record about 2.6 percent.

Looking at the next year’s projections, Saudi total revenues are expected to reach about SR1.12 trillion in 2023, while reaching about 1.21 trillion in 2025, according to the Ministry of Finance's preliminary statement of the state's general budget for the year 2023.

Total expenditures are expected to reach about SR1.11 trillion in the next fiscal year 2023, and that the expenditure ceiling will reach about SR1.13 trillion in 2025.

The objectives of the state's general budget for the fiscal year 2023 come as a continuation of the process of work to strengthen and develop the financial position of the Kingdom, the finance minister said.

“The government attaches great importance to enhancing the support and social protection system and accelerating the pace of strategic spending on Vision programs and major projects to support economic growth,” Mohammed Al-Jadaan said.

The Kingdom’s economy has demonstrated its strength and durability by achieving high growth rates, after taking many policies and measures with the aim of protecting the economy from the repercussions of inflation and supply chain challenges, he added.

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Deals worth over $27bn available for Saudi businesses with leading national firms

Deals worth over $27bn available for Saudi businesses with leading national firms
Updated 30 September 2022

Deals worth over $27bn available for Saudi businesses with leading national firms

Deals worth over $27bn available for Saudi businesses with leading national firms

RIYADH: Saudi companies are being encouraged to tap into investment deals and contracts worth more than SR100 billion ($26.62 billion) with two of the Kingdom’s biggest firms.

Representatives from the Saudi Electricity Co. and the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation — also known as SABIC — unveiled various opportunities for firms in the Kingdom to work with them during workshops organized by the Federation of Saudi Chambers, according to Saudi Press Agency.

The Saudi Electricity Co. set out its strategy for the localization of the electricity industries, known as ‘Bena’, which aims to encourage and support local manufacturing.

It also includes three initiatives: to raise the percentage of localization in the company's projects; increase the purchases of materials from national factories; and identify investment opportunities required to be localized.

The firm indicated the volume of future demand for or purchases and contracts is expected to reach SR100 billion.

SABIC explained that the investment opportunities under the umbrella of its Nusaned initiative to enhance local content, contributed to supporting economic development with more than $1 billion of gross domestic product.

The company approved 43 investment opportunities, with the total investment opportunities amounting to 351 opportunities.

The number of investors has reached 183, while the number of feasibility studies has hit 74.