Almost everyone in the world needs electricity and it find it importance besides clean water and safe sanitation as a human right. Also, every child has a right to education, yet the conditions in which a child can study are generally neglected, especially in rural India. Even today, 40% families in India use kerosene as the main source for lighting (Census 2011). When studying at night, the kerosene fumes that blow out of a lantern are harmful to health and may cause severe damage to lungs and eyes. What every child deserves is the right to clean light – that causes no harm, is renewable and affordable and due to subsidies on kerosene, villagers prefer buying it.
Most of the remote villages are disconnected from the mainland in terms roadways and power lines, considering the fact that there is a huge installation investment and also the returns are minimal. Another way to solve this issue is by installing mini grids and battery powered individual lighting systems.
In rural India, the Solar-Powered Microgrids show mixed success. As India looks to bring electricity to the quarter of its population, still having no access to it, the nonprofit groups are increasingly turning to the solar microgrids to provide power to nation’s villages. But the initiatives so far have faced major challenges.
Let’s talk about Rajanga village in Odisha. It is a three hour to drive from the state capital, Bhubaneswar, but its 550 inhabitants are cut off, and have no access to tarred road, power grid, water supply mains, no shops, and only an intermittent and patchy mobile phone signal. Because the forest is a protected reserve, they are banned from gathering firewood, bamboo, or other products from the forest around them. And since it lies on an elephant migration route, the authorities won’t allow roads or power cables in the forest. Microgrids have been a boon for such villages and the villagers love the clean energy unlike the conventional kerosene.
Suresh Pradhan owns a small mud hut, illuminated by a solar-powered light bulb, dangling from the straw roo. His children could play outside in the evening, he said. And his wife could carry on sewing. But being free of elephants was the biggest gain. “They used to come into our village at night. We were in fear, especially my children, and they did damage. Now there is light, they don’t come.” The fear and number of snakes bites have also reduced ever since the village saw the solar powered lighting system.
In several villages, the only real prospect of getting electricity any time soon will be through constructing stand-alone solar-powered microgrids, where a central bank of photovoltaic cells is linked by cable to a few dozen homes and local enterprises.
So how can the world best achieve the rapid scale-up of microgrids required to light the world’s dark places?
India also has private entrepreneurs investing in the village microgrids. They include the Mera Gao Power in Uttar Pradesh and the Mlinda Foundation in West Bengal. But there are many problems for private investors because, in such a densely populated country, the grid is rarely far away, and grid power is heavily subsidized by the government. In fact, it is often free of charge. This makes it hard for investors to be sure of a return.
Projects like Million SOUL and Liter of Light involve a lot of college students. giving them exposure to lives of rural communities. The entire world emphasizes on education but very few talk about the education at home. Just like a hungry child cannot get educated, a child without a source of light loses several hours to darkness.
In response to such conditions affecting the night studies and other activities of the school children in remote rural communities, the project “Localization of Solar Energy through Local Assembly, Sale and Usage of 1 Million Solar Urja Lamps (SoUL)”, initiated by IIT Bombay aims to empower populations in underserved communities, through high quality programs that meet their real needs to improve the quality of their lives.
Similar is the Liter of Light, a global, grassroots movement committed to providing affordable, sustainable solar light to people with limited or no access to electricity. Liter of Light has installed more than 350,000 bottle lights in more than 15 countries and taught green skills to empower grassroots entrepreneurs at every stop. It’s Night Light Project is about the recycled plastic bottles that can store up to ten hours of light through attached solar panels. The daylight project being a subtle solution which includes water and a plastic bottle as its prime components, provides light intensity equal to a 55 Watt incandescent bulb.
At the Paris climate negotiations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his nation’s plans to generate 40 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030. The first stage will be to install 100 gigawatts of solar power in the next five years, as part of an effort to connect the country’s remaining 18,500 dark villages in time for the next Indian general election in 2019.
The problem is that the fees paid by the villagers are far from sufficient to pay for repairs when the product incurs some damages. Currently, batteries last only a few years and are the biggest cost of the entire system. Maintaining the battery pack and mini grids in remote areas is not feasible. Change of batteries incurs high maintenance cost. Acceptance by the village community to new technologies, trying to keep account of the damaged modules becomes difficult due to geographical exclusion and lack of communication. The million SOUL is trying to bridge this gap by having centres around the country where the users can get their product fixed or exchanged incase they get damaged.
Still, microgrids linked to solar power have huge potential in rural India. The technology is there, and it is becoming cheaper all the time. Given the shambolic state of the national grid, and its heavy reliance on coal burning, solar microgrids still seem like the ideal solution for lighting dark communities when comp. The model are made affordable but NGO’s find it a challenge to deliver it to the extreme poor communities. But the search for a sustainable model to get microgrid to where they are needed goes on.
Optimists hope that, with the global price of solar energy falling fast, private investment may be able to bring power to even the poorest. India, with more dark villages than any other country, is set to be the test case in order to set an example to other villages around the world.