A small Indian village in the northeast of the country, with the help of Greenpeace, is now meeting all of its own energy requirements with solar, after 30 years of apparent neglect from the government.
Dharnai village in the state of Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, now sources its power from a solar micro-grid. Bihar currently has at least 19,000 other villages, or 82 per cent of the population, which do not receive reliable power from the traditional grid-based system and still lack access to electricity.
The 100-kilowatt (kW) system in Dharnai powers the 450 homes of the 2,400 residents, 50 commercial operations, two schools, a training centre and a health care facility. A battery backup ensures power around the clock.
This includes 70 kW for electricity generation and 30 kW for 10 solar-powered water-pumping systems with three horsepower each. The system was built within three months and has been on a test-run since March.
This village, which is 100 per cent solar powered, is a first for India. Greenpeace says it required a heterogeneous village for this project where agriculture was the main occupation also with basic social infrastructure like school, healthcare facility, an anganwadi (communal childcare centre), a commercial zone and around 400 households.
Reliable electricity in the evening has improved educational opportunities for village children, and brought the safety of street lighting. A dependable power supply has boosted the local economy, and brought a welcome improvement to the social life of the villagers.
According to Greenpeace, approximately 85 per cent of the poor in rural India use non-conventional or inexpensive sources of fuel for lighting and cooking (such as firewood or cow dung), furthermore around 45 per cent of this population does not have access to electricity and relies on kerosene for lighting.
These fuel sources not only have adverse effects on health and the environment, but also restrict economic growth; non-availability of proper power is the key cause for lack of economic development in rural India.
The micro-grid is operated in association with BASIX, a livelihood promotion institution as well as CEED, a network of NGOs and think-tank organisations in Bihar to support renewable energy development in the state.
After two months of successful testing, Greenpeace launched the micro-grid on Sunday 20 July with the eldest person of Dharnai (80-years-old) formally switching it on in front of a supportive crowd of thousands.
Dharnai is just the beginning, says Greenpeace: India has 80,000 more villages that need solar micro-grids.