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Electrifying rural Bihar:The 'best from waste' route

Mar 14, 2011

A sustainable route to rural electrification has been taken by the entrepreneurs of Bihar who paved the way for alternative development in rural India. Husk Power System uses the waste material of rice husk to light up the off grid villages at a low cost and in an environment friendly way.

 

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Bringing electricity to every single household in India still remains a distant dream. Though the Government has prioritized rural electrification in the current Five Year Plan, most recent statistics on the status of electrification in villages are not too encouraging. According to the 2001 census, while 80% of Indian villages had at least an electricity line, only 52.5% of rural households had access to electricity.

However, an innovative enterprise operating out of the state of Bihar, Husk Power System (HPS) may probably have found a way to electrify rural India through an eco-friendly and renewable energy based model of electricity generation.  The brainchild of a group of social entrepreneurs, Gyanesh Pandey and Ratnesh Yadav, Manoj Sinha and Charles Ransler, the company uses biomass gasification technology to convert discarded rice husks into combustible gases which drive generators to produce electricity. The electricity obtained so is much cheaper than the conventional modes of kerosene lanterns for household and diesel generators for commercial and irrigation purposes.

Thus far, HPS has installed 60 power plants that are powering more than 250 villages and impacting approximately 1, 50,000 lives in remote regions of Bihar. 

Humble Beginnings

HPS was initiated from the village Tamkuha – literal translation fog of darkness – in the district Champaran of Bihar. Both Pandey and Yadav, born in Bihar and educated in various Indian metropolises returned to their state with one mission – electricity for the poor and as yet off-the-grid families. All they knew was that they needed to find an alternative, eco-friendly and affordable way to do so. Many impassioned brainstorm sessions followed. They felt that solar energy was expensive, wind energy not amply available and hydel power was not feasible for the region they were operating in. Eventually, they zeroed in on rice husks and biomass gasification. It helped that rice millers in rural Bihar already used the technology to power their mills, albeit at a much smaller scale. A bigger problem was using rice husk as an independent fuel source, as husk because of its high tar content created a gas so dirty that it clogged the engines of the machine that generated electricity. However, Pandey, currently the CEO of HPS, felt that were the engine to be cleaned before the dirty gas got released, the model would work. And it did. 

In August 2007, the HPS team then called the Samta Samriddhi Foundation, succeeded n lighting up the Tamkuha village. Once operational, the team took their model to all major domestic and international competitions, in a bid to win funding and recognition. Awards and investors rolled in. 

In the near future, the company envisages installing 500 power plants by the end of the year 2012. To operationalise this, HPS will employ 700 operators, 35 cluster level managers, 10 mid level mangers and 5 senior managers, other than generating employment at the grassroots level. The hope, says Pandey, is to install 2014 power plants by the end of the year 2014 creating at least 10, 000 jobs. HPS is hoping to expand in the south starting from Tamil Nadu, to east with West Bengal, to North East with Assam and even across the border to Nepal. “If suitably expanded, the HPS model can generate 27 GW from the total discarded rice husks produced domestically. That amounts to 1/6th of total installed generating capacity of the country,” says Pandey.

The project is environment friendly as the biomass gasification process stops carbon emission unlike electricity generated from coal or diesel. It envisages saving 750,000 tons of carbon by 2014. 

As of now, HPS has no plans for patenting their technology, which they feel has existed for a while in rural India and is simple enough for even lay people to adapt and use. Simple as the technology may be, the HPS model seems effective enough to herald a promising era in renewable energy use in India.

 

Edited by: Madhu. A. Singhal

Click here to read more about the Husk Power Systems.

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