When Chhattisgarh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) worth Rs 1.22 lakh crore in the first week of November last year, there was a surprise announcement: around Rs 50,000 crore worth of MoUs were on harnessing solar energy. In a state known to invest heavily in setting up thermal power plants, the investments could mean a huge leap towards an alternative de-centralised model of energy production and distribution.
In fact, the first steps to a real success story were already taken when the state was formed. A revolution of sorts in the sphere of renewable energy is afoot in 1,400-odd remote villages, which were electrified by the Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Authority (CREDA) in 2001. With a generous subsidy from a Central government scheme for remote village electrification under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, CREDA has installed numerous micro and mini solar grids. These small-scale grids are providing electricity to more than 50,000 households, and also helping healthcare and educational institutions function better.
Tiriya, a village located around 45 km from Jagdalpur town in south Chhattisgarh, cannot be connected to the existing electricity network because it is located deep inside the forests of Bastar. To overcome this problem, CREDA installed a 4 KW solar micro-grid system in 2004, comprising an array of solar panels to capture sunlight and a huge inverter to convert solar energy into electrical energy, which is then stored in a large number of batteries. Wires were drawn across the village, and for Rs 300 each, every house was given a connection that could operate an 11W CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) for six hours — from 6 to 10 in the evening and 4 to 6 early in the morning.
However, over the years, the demand for electricity began to rise as people started using it to recharge cell-phones and also installed more CFLs, thereby draining the batteries by the evening itself. After assessing the increase in demand, CREDA upgraded the system to 10 KW in July this year and has doubled the number of CFL connections per household.
Thirty-five-year-old Dassi and her husband run a grocery store from their home in Tiriya. Earlier, her shop would hardly get any customer after dark. Now, a CFL outside her shop enables her to keep the shop open till late. “Also, the installation of street lights has helped villagers move around after dark,” she says.
As part of the regular development work being carried out by the forest department, the village now also has a solar water pumping station, which provides water to the villagers at their doorsteps. “Now we don’t have to use hand-pumps to fetch drinking water,” says Dhouna, a 30-year-old manual labourer and a mother of three. An irrigation pump has also been recently installed, to help farmers irrigate their fields throughout the year.
Such is the goodwill generated by these solar grids among the villagers that even the Naxals do not dare to touch them. Koleng, a village situated in the forests of Kanger Ghati National Park near the border of Naxal-dominated Sukma district, has got three solar systems installed. While all the forest department checkposts situated on the edge of the village were destroyed by the Naxals, the buildings with solar panels were left untouched.