THE STORY OF SCETTI
Story by Ashwin Murthy, Aiswarya Murali, Atreyo Banerjee, Abhayraj Naik, Ambar Nag, Ashwini Hiremath, Karthik Balakrishnan, and Shefali Deshmukh.
This past March, our team launched Scetti (the State Clean Electricity Transition Tracker India). Scetti is a dashboard focusing on state-level data related to electricity in India. This is the result of a Subak Fellowship that was awarded to one of the core team members in March 2022. The Scetti dashboard integrates technical data related to electricity capacity, generation, consumption, and finance with policy data from the state and national levels. The data is provided at a granularity that facilitates actionable recommendations leading to transformative change from coal-powered “dirty” electricity to cleaner sources of electricity.
Scetti gathers and presents data related to electricity in India that was previously scattered across different central and state government agencies, ministries, institutions, and administrative departments. Scetti currently includes 10 technical datasets and over 300 policy documents which are summarized for easy use - all the data is categorized along basic categories around: (1) Access; (2) Financial Health; and (3) Environmental Impact. All the data on Scetti is freely downloadable in convenient machine-readable and PDF formats.
HOW SCETTI WORKS
Scetti presents its data over two frameworks: an interactive visual data explorer that presents specific technical and policy data for one or more states based on user preference, as well as state profiles that present all the data (both technical and policy) for a single state in one place.
Building these two frameworks was no easy task! This multi-layered activity involved: (1) Collection of technical and policy data by manually scouring confusing ministry and department websites spread across the internet; (2) Devising a workable methodology for their categorization and depiction; and (3) summarizing and organizing the policy data. The results of this process were then transformed into a visually attractive, intuitive, and user-friendly dashboard with state profiles.
The dashboard allows users to compare states across different data sets and variables, which can be filtered by the categories “Access”, “Environment”, and “Financial Health”. For instance, a user can compare similar states on the category of environmental impact, looking at installed capacity for renewable energy for Karnataka and Gujarat (two states that are leading India’s push for renewable energy) or across two dissimilar states such as Karnataka and Bihar (Karnataka leading the transition to renewable energy and Bihar being heavily reliant on coal-powered electricity). The user could then proceed to compare the relevant policies for each state on environmental impact, for instance, comparing the respective State Action Plan(s) on Climate Change (SAPCC).
The state profiles similarly allow the user to identify and view the visualized technical data metrics for the state while also looking at each of the electricity-relevant policies applicable for that state. Scetti also provides a brief textual overview of the electricity context of the state, which will be developed with further analytical content in the next phase of development. State profiles for any or all of the states in India can be easily downloaded, and serve as a ready reference source for users who might be interested in understanding the overall electricity context of one or more states.
THE BACKGROUND CONTEXT
Electricity generation accounts for the bulk of India’s greenhouse gas emissions, fueled by coal and other fossil fuels (72.7 percent in 2022). From the perspective of climate change mitigation, the need for urgent intervention to transition to cleaner sources of electricity cannot be overstated. However, one of the most important things to consider in conversations and policies of electricity transition in India is the country’s underdevelopment in key energy sectors.
Millions of people in India continue to lack access to electricity. As a result, India’s electricity requirements will grow tremendously in the coming years if millions of people are to reach basic standards of living. Tackling electricity generation-related carbon emission concerns must also be weighed against the need to ensure electricity security by boosting electricity generation. Moreover, the political economy of electricity within states in India must remain a central concern for any truly meaningful efforts at securing a low-carbon transition which is transformative, equitable and just.
Finding answers to the question of fair and just decarbonization of electricity generation in India is a convoluted task, marred by policy uncertainty and systemic challenges of inadequate access, environmental risks, operational inefficiencies, and the poor financial health of utilities. Fragmented, opaque and inaccessible laws, regulations, policies, and rules - spread across 36 Indian States and Union Territories - are recurring foundational informational problems in securing an informed dialogue on a just transition for the electricity sector in India.
Opportunities, incentives, and requirements for transition (away from fossil fuels in generating electricity) in India can only be properly evaluated and acted upon with adequate awareness and analysis of the existing policy framework. Presently, there are over 300 such policy documents spread across Indian States and myriad governmental bodies without any available mechanisms for easy access, identification, and use at a granular level. This confounding situation has resulted in an information asymmetry between the financial, technical, and political will to transition and the actually existing (or potential) policy opportunities to enable this transition.
India’s possibilities for a swift and equitable transition away from coal-powered electricity are often compromised due to the absence of actionable and accurate data. It is against this background that Scetti was conceptualized to help identify policy opportunities for states in India to reduce their dependence on coal for generating electricity.
TOWARDS JUST TRANSITION
Scetti’s dashboard of actionable data sets and catalog of policies can provide policymakers, legislators, and civil society actors with data-driven insights while formulating a just strategy to shift India toward clean electricity. Presently, conversations around transitioning away from coal in India happen within silos and without the benefit of accurate data-driven evidence.
Policy data in particular remains highly fragmented and difficult to navigate for most. Scetti provides quick, easy, and guided access to the technical data and electricity-relevant policies for each Indian state. Possibilities of comparison, regional and national clustering, and trend analysis are therefore opened up in a transparent and accessible manner. By providing data along multiple indices, such as a sectoral examination of electricity sales, or a residential survey of access to electricity, policymakers and activists can take a closer look at electricity sector policy questions that cut across socio-economic lines, thereby making concrete steps in the transition towards clean energy.
All the data on Scetti - technical and policy - is categorized on its closest relevance to the foundational categories of access to electricity, environmental impacts, and financial health - which represent the fundamental criteria and goals of any electricity system. The dashboard is built in a manner that allows for easy integration of additional datasets, generation of powerful analytical insights, and uncovering of policy opportunities for just transitions.
KEY LESSONS AND THE WAY FORWARD
The fundamental lesson learned from the experience of building Scetti is that an evidence-driven approach is needed and indeed possible in securing a just transition to clean electricity in India. Policy decisions, especially those that seek to change existing systems, must be backed by clear evidence obtained from robust and openly-accessible data to garner support and generate trust. Insights drawing from effective integration of technical and policy data are the need of the hour for identifying policy reform opportunities for a just transition in India’s electricity sector. Such ‘well-grounded’ and ‘data-supported’ policy reforms would serve as effective tools for socio-economic transformation.
Another lesson learned along the way was to celebrate small wins and keep the overall project goals realizable within the available time frame and limited capacities of the state. Quite early in our work, we realized that our initial goal of uncovering policy opportunities for a just transition might be too ambitious given the enormous amounts of work involved in locating, categorizing, and analyzing the existing policy documents. We decided to focus therefore on getting the groundwork (of collecting and analyzing the policies) done in an effective manner in this phase of the project.
Much work remains to be done on highlighting and analyzing the complex local/regional/national justice considerations involved in electricity transition in India, and the Scetti experience has made us aware of the huge opportunity for, and interest in, enlightened policy reform in this space.
One more lesson which became clear at different points of building Scetti is the value of having a well-knit, cohesive, and diverse team. Collaborative work is key. Scetti lies at the intersection of climate science, policy, data, and technology. It required the disparate skill sets of academics, researchers, lawyers, data scientists, software developers, and designers to conceptualize and execute this project. To do this effectively, channels of clear communication, task accountability, prioritization of goals, and a deep commitment to build and work collaboratively were of paramount importance. Along the way, we were helped superbly by supporters, friends, and well-wishers, including colleagues from organizations such as Ember, Climate Policy Radar, Vasudha Power Info Hub, Initiative for Climate Action, and of course, Subak.
Collecting and presenting the data in an intuitive manner is only the first step. The narrative and opportunities that emerge from such technical and policy data must now be effectively communicated to policymakers to generate policy reform for just transitions. There is also tremendous potential to increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of the data on the Scetti dashboard, generate and develop analytical insights with an emphasis on policy opportunities for a just electricity transition in India, and more effectively leverage cutting-edge technological tools for more functionalities.
We envision Scetti supporting a more evidence-based approach to policy reforms in the electricity sector in India, thereby catalyzing a policy shift towards clean energy across multiple Indian states. Through our open data dashboard, we further hope to collaborate with other climate-action organizations and also gradually integrate other datasets, at multiple scales, including those that focus on transportation vehicles, impacts on labor and employment from renewable energy transitions, technological choices and options, and financial instruments including subsidies and taxes. India has expressed a desire to transition towards clean energy in accordance with its developmental objectives. Now with the aid of open data and evidence-based analysis, it is indeed possible to make this a timely and just transition.