Strategies to Bring Reliable Electricity

15. ledna 2013 v 3:52 |  solar photovoltaic system
Some, such as D.Light, are focusing on solar lanterns. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has an entire programme, 'Light a Billion Lives', which develops high-quality lanterns for rental at affordable prices, together with a network of thousands of solar charging stations. Others, such as the Karnataka-based NGO,SKDRDP, work with local self-help groups to provide them with a range of clean energy solutions, from solar to biogas, via a carefully constructed micro credit loan system.

A growing number of entrepreneurs are developing local 'minigrids'. Among them is Husk Power Systems, which uses crop waste, principally rice husks, to generate electricity via a process of biomass gasification. Based in Bihar, India's 'darkest' (that is, least electrified) state, Husk was founded by a local engineer and entrepreneur, Gyanesh Pandey, and now supplies power via village-scale grids to around 35,000 households. "If you can do it in Bihar, you can do it anywhere", he smiles.

For people marooned far from the mains, technologies such as these are nothing short of life changing. Rampur Sahebganj is a typical Bihari village: a wide swathe of homes, markets and temples in the gently sloping countryside some way north of Patna, the state capital. Until recently, there was no electricity to speak of - despite it being officially connected to the grid. At night on the fringe of the village, the Milky Way still shines out clear against the blackness, the brightest stars fiercely white, undimmed by the slightest hint of skyglow. To an outsider on a brief visit, the lack of power makes it look charming and romantic. For villagers like Hemanti Devi, bringing up her three daughters alone, it looks like hard work.

Last year, she was connected to Husk's newly installed grid, and she's clearly still excited by the difference it's made - as are her daughters. Instead of peering at their homework under the smoky flicker of a kerosene lamp, they can read without strain by electric light. They don't have to go to the market to charge their mobiles, and can gossip with their brothers, away working on building sites in Varanasi. "I can see properly to do the cooking now", says Hemanti, "and my eyes don't water from the kerosene smoke."

Best of all, she's saving money. Husk - which operates on essentially commercial terms - charges her INR150 a month - compared with the INR250 or so which she was spending on kerosene. It's a similar story in the market, where cafe owner Manoj Kumar can stay open several hours later thanks to the light, boosting his earnings by around a quarter.

One advantage of biomass gasification over standalone solar panels is that it generates more juice: enough to drive basic machine tools, for example. So the minigrids it powers come closer than most to 'conventional' power. The Government's coming round to the minigrid argument, with the 'Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme' exploring a solar-biomass gasification hybrid for Bihar along the lines of Husk's approach, and possibly with its involvement. Another advantage of having a 'day' and 'night' source of power is that it's available for much of any given 24-hour period, while adding to the general resilience of the supply.

Husk is now working on basic solar microgrids, powering groups of around 40 households from a 300-350W solar supply. That should give each home enough power for LED lighting, a mobile charge point and even a low-wattage TV, in return for a monthly fee of around INR75-100, which is the same or even less than the average household pays out for kerosene.

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