100% rural electrification. This was the ambitious plan Prime Minister Narendra Modi had for India two years ago. And last September, the government put forth the impressive statistic claiming 98.7% villages had been electrified. But, there’s a catch. Electrification only means putting in place an infrastructure for distribution of power. It doesn’t actually convey how many houses get power or measure how many lightbulbs are on. In real numbers, this means that 92% of newly electrified villages still continue to lie in darkness.
Add to that the amount of power we lose to transmission and distribution losses and suddenly, things look very bad indeed. A report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) found that transmission and distribution loss from power lines has been steadily increasing since the late ‘60s, and some states lose out on as much as 50% of the electricity generated. Bihar is one of these states, where the power situation has been described as grim by Union Minister Piyush Goyal. This despite the state being one of the biggest coal-producers in India.
Depending on exhaustible and polluting resources like coal comes at a cost – to people, and to the environment both. But what if there was a far more sustainable way to produce and consume electricity? Ratnesh Yadav and Gyanesh Pandey, two entrepreneurs from Bihar, have found one.
Husk Power Systems (HPS) is a powerful example of how rural innovation can help identify a pressing issue and deliver a solution. In this particular case, the innovation is simple as it is effective. Rice and wheat husks, sugarcane stalks, and other farm waste is collected and burnt. The gas produced in this process is then used to run a generator, which in turn produces electricity. It’s a simple innovation, but the system has had a huge impact on people in rural Bihar. By supplying low-cost electricity to villages, one of the biggest outcomes has been the setting up of a night school for children.
Today, HPS runs successfully in 300 villages in the state. A counter on their website says their technology has helped save 9,244,800 liters of Kerosene that would have otherwise been expended through conventional modes of generating electricity.
And what’s more, this grassroots project is also constantly expanding. In India, they have partnered with HSBC and the Samta Samridhi Foundation to set up the Husk Power University. Its training centres are currently in Patna, Barauni, Bettiah and Padrauna, where students with learn “both the technical and business sides of operating a plant“. Not only does this widen the base for opportunities to learn about sustainable technology, it also empowers individuals at the grassroots level to take action on issues like India’s energy crisis.
Internationally, Husk Power Systems intend to set up five plants in Uganda, and 10 in Tanzania, in order to share their model of sustainable energy practices.
What began as creating technology to produce electricity out of farm waste could well translate into an answer for a problem villages across India have been facing. They could not only have a significant impact on India’s economy, but could also change the lives of lakhs of Indians for the better. And that’s what real impact looks like.