By Krishangi Singh:
“We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.” – Thomas A. Edison
A century has passed by since this idea came into being, and it is still as far from reality as peace from our world. Mr. Edison certainly must have realised the revolution electricity would bring even when the world did not have as many devices to be charged regularly. While we sit at our comfortable couches & casually browse through articles, our most pressing electricity related problem would perhaps be the power cut that might take place around the timing of our favourite television show. While we feel deprived in these certain hours of power cuts, about 45% of India’s population survives on candles and kerosene lamps.
In every country, abundant energy supply is a prerequisite for development and holistic growth. As India herself faced acute shortage of energy supply by a deficit of around 5.4% in 2013, as reported by CEA, it is not surprising that quite a few states in the country cannot provide electricity to even half of its residents. However, Bihar is a state with an acute dearth of energy resources with over 82% of its population living in houses without a power grid connection. In such a scenario, centralised grid systems will never cover up such large deficits of power supply and the only way to overcome this problem in rural and remote areas is to arrange a more sustainable and localised electricity distribution system.
The Bihar government might have failed to realise that the alternative energy resources can change the lives of 52% of its rural residents but Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, realised that the solar power in the region can light up the villages where electricity wires cannot reach. In 2012, Greenpeace did a social audit on RGGVY (Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana) and challenged the program as it mainly concentrated on extending the centralized grid system which has clearly fallen short on its objectives. Greenpeace offered an alternate model of sustainable and clean energy to the deprived areas of Bihar near where no power generation plants exist.
Dharnai is a small village in the district of Jehanabad in Bihar, that lead an oblivious existence in darkness for over 30 years. Distant from even the dream of seeing electricity in their homes, they had quietly resigned to this fate. As alternative energy sources, the rural population of this area uses hazardous fuels like cow dung, kerosene lamps and firewood for cooking and lighting. They are among many others who rely on such energy sources, which are not only toxic for the environment, but also prove fatal for around 2 million Indians each year who die prematurely of pulmonary diseases caused due to poisonous smoke from these fuels.
Greenpeace, along with partner organisations CEED (Centre for Environment and Energy Development) and BASIX (a livelihood promotional institute), decided to revolutionize the lives in this village by bringing in electricity through Decentralized Renewable Energy System (DRES). Under this power generation system, Greenpeace has set-up microgrids throughout the village that consist of solar panels to generate electricity, which is not only environmental friendly but also cost effective as the decentralised connections ensure less transmission and distribution wastage reducing it to 3-4% from 15% that occurs in case of centralised power production plants. These solar microgrids have been installed keeping in mind the specific electricity needs of the area and provide electricity to over 450 households, 50 commercial establishments along with 60 streetlights, two schools, one health centre and one Kisan Training Centre. The solar microgrid was set up with an initial investment of approximately Rs.3 crore, with a capacity of 100 KW electricity generation to cater to the basic energy requirements of the village, and it can be further expanded to meet the advanced needs of the community if required. In each way around, this grid has proved to be a blessing, be it in the environmental, social or economic sphere.
The introduction of electricity has changed the outlook of this village all-together. In this video, you can see the residents of Dharnai explain how this project has changed their lives for the better.
Not only is the microgrid providing them with energy, but is also creating jobs for the local villagers for operation and maintenance of the grid. The assured electricity supply allows longer working hours for businesses to ensure more income. Street lights ensure safety from not only anti-societal elements but also from snakes and other local animals. However, the most proud achievement of the power supply remains to be the furtherance of education opportunities for the children in the village by providing them comfortable lighting at schools as well as at home.
It took Greenpeace only a year to provide a sustainable source of energy for an entire village, with limited amount of funding to invest, so why is it that the state government hasn’t been able to achieve the same on a larger scale with the substantial monetary and natural resources under its command? Greenpeace has perhaps figured out the direly needed solution to the country’s electricity supply deficit. The question remains, when will the government accept the alternate model and lighten up the lives of the 400 million citizens in waiting?