“I didn’t have power until grade seven,” an Indian attendee at the GridWise Global Forum told me. "It changed my life. I could study at night,” he said, as his eyes lit up.

Power revolutionizes life for many Indian villagers, allowing them to spend more time on the farm during the day and leave the household chores and cooking until after dark.

The attendee’s story is far from unique. Half a billion Indians don’t have regular access to electricity -- so they steal it when they can.

Ramesh Reddi was lucky -- he had power growing up. Reddi, president of IntellEnergyUtil, witnessed people climbing up trees to tap into power lines.

“People don’t mind putting their life in danger,” he said.

Generally, farmers need electricity to run the water. They can control their meters and the government looks the other way.

The smart grid could help get them out of this kind of situation by tracking where energy is going and where the pockets of consumption are.

Dr. Rahul Tongia of the Center for Study of Science, Technology, and Policy (CSTEP) in Bangalore, India, said that India shows that every country’s needs are different. You can’t just make a magic black box and use it to deliver energy -- it isn’t that easy, he said.

“In theory, they are tightening law enforcement, but they lack the infrastructure to measure it. But cutting down on ‘theft’ isn’t going to save energy. They are just not paying for it. The real question is, how do we make electricity affordable?” Tongia asked.

If people are living below the poverty line, the government pays for their electricity, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the Food Stamp program here in the U.S.

Technical losses and theft account for 30% of all losses, with theft accounting for two-thirds of that figure. That equates to more than two percent of India's GDP.

One possible solution is using information and communication technology to measure what’s going on and where power is going. That way, the smart grid can act like a patrol car for the electric grid.

Energy thieves bypass the meter or take wires and mount them on existing poles to hook into the energy supply.

Many residents of India's infamous urban slums take enough electricity to power their TVs and maybe one or two light bulbs. But these struggling and desperately impoverished Indians don’t deserve the bad rap they've gotten, when 90% of the country's utility losses come from affluent households stealing power to keep their air conditioning running, and from small businesses and hotels that illegally tap into to the power grid.

Most Indian neighborhoods only have power for a few hours each day. Half of the households are not connected to the grid. In the last census conducted in 2001, 66 million homes out of 136 million were not connected to the grid -- instead, many of the country's residents must use oil lamps or wood fires to light their homes.

India wants to reduce system losses by introducing the smart grid. For instance, during peak hours, the utilities currently engage in load shedding. This basically means Street No. 1 will go without power for a few hours, and then Street No. 2 will not have power for a couple of hours, and so on. But the smart grid could help side-step that problem — it could switch off select appliances at certain times; for example, you can have the AC turned off, but still have the lights on.

Lastly, there is a lot of funding on the table for the integration of renewables, such as solar and wind.

“People forget the scale in India. Countries are doing pilot programs, but just one large city in India may be home as many people as an entire European country,” Tongia said.

Other countries like Brazil and Mexico have similar theft problems. In Mexico, the energy thieves are called “little devils.”

These 'devils' are squatters and that suck the country’s power grid dry and often cause blackouts.