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Village in Bihar declares independence from darkness and anonymity with Greenpeace’s first solar-powered micro-grid

Gayetri Devi, a senior resident of Dharnai village, can now watch television, thanks to the solar-powered micro-grid. Photo: Subrata Biswas / Greenpeace  

Times are changing. No longer do women in Dharnai rush to get dinner ready before dark. No longer do men wrap up the day’s work by dusk or check if they have packed their torches when leaving the house at night.

Why? Because after years of darkness, the lights are on! The recent electrification project, coordinated by Greenpeace India with the aim of empowering people with access to decentralized renewable energy, has made the lanes of Dharnai the hub of community interaction after the sun goes down.

The solar-powered micro-grid is operated in association with BASIX, a livelihood promotion institution as well as CEED, which is a network of NGOs and think-tank organisations in Bihar to support renewable energy development in the state.

Where 30 years went by without much progress, nine months of installation and electricity generation through the decentralized renewable energy model has energized a whole population that would have otherwise remained in the dark.

“While India was growing leaps and bounds, we were stuck here for the last 30 years, trying everything in the book to get electricity. We were forced to struggle with kerosene lamps and expensive diesel generators. But now I can proudly say that Dharnai is a leader in innovation. We have established our identity as an energy self-sufficient village and can compete with the country in its race to growth,” said Kamal Kishore, a resident of Dharnai.

Dharnai is a revenue village in Makhdumpur block of Bihar’s Jehanabad district. It has been the talk of the state as locals now move around with pride, taking turns to spread the word.

About 80 km from the state capital Patna, and on the Patna-Gaya highway (NH 83), Dharnai is well-connected to rest of the state. There is even a railway station in the village that locals use for commuting to and from urban centers nearby. Autos ply on NH 83 between Dharnai and more urbanized centers like Makhdumpur and Belaganj. Dharnai is close to the Barabar Caves, a historic landmark, while Bodh Gaya, where international tourists gather is 45 km away.

Now it also boasts a 100 kilowatt (kw) micro-grid that currently provides quality electricity to more than 2,400 people in the village. Costing Rs. three crore, it is a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind enterprise that provides 24x7 electricity to more than 450 households and 50 commercial establishments. This includes 70 kw for electricity generation and 30 kw for 10 solar-powered water pumping systems of three horsepower each.

Built within three months and on a test-run since March, the quick-to-install micro-grid also takes care of 60 street lights, energy requirements of two schools, one health centre, one Kisan training centre and 50 commercial establishments. It gives the village the mandate to not just a better life but also an ambition.

Powered up by the decentralized solar-powered microgrid, the economic and commercial opportunities in Dharnai have multiplied. On the commercial stretch of NH 83, business has boomed in the past few months. The daily income of vendors has shot up as more people come out after sunset, to shop in leisure. Especially during summer, when the heat reduces customer footfalls during the day, vendors and merchants can count on traffic in the evening since the street, and the area in general, are all lit by the solar-powered microgrid.

No wonder, villagers are taking charge to manage and monitor the system. It is common to find village elders and leaders joining operators of the system to talk about expansion and capacity building at the main office complex after the lights are on.

A quarter of the global population without access to electricity comprise the poor in India, where more than a third of the rural population lacks access to electricity. The decentralised, expandable and sustainable approach of the micro-grid provides that critical catalyst to power the new growth centres of India like Dharnai as well as bridge the deficit in urban areas. It is also a solution that can plug into the current government’s focus on using solar power for energy access to every household by 2019.

“The coal-fired and nuclear-fired power plants of the country will not be able to reach the Dharnais of the country. Nor will they be able to address global climate concerns and India’s commitments towards those concerns. India needs to seriously reconsider its energy strategy and prioritise renewable energy for social and climate justice,” says Samit Aich, Executive Director, Greenpeace India. 

For more details, visit http://dharnailive.org

For the fact sheets on the micro-grid, visit http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/publications/Dharnai-Live---Microgrid-Technical-Fact-Sheet/