By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank). Without electricity, many development goals remain dreams that will never be achieved.
But in a first for India, a village is now entirely powered by solar energy, kick-starting its development and reversing the decline common to many villages.
Rampura village in the state of Uttar Pradesh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uttar_Pradesh) had previously been without electricity. But its move to solar power has boosted school performance, brought new economic opportunities for women, and even made the buffalo produce more milk! By getting up early, the buffalo can be fed more before day breaks.
Being able to see at night unleashes a vast range of possibilities, but for the very poor, lighting is often the most expensive household expense, soaking up 10 to 15 percent of income.
There’s a direct link between lighting and economic development. Each 1 per cent increase in available power will increase GDP by an estimated 2 to 3 per cent.
In India, 600,000 villages still lack electricity. Despite the country’s impressive economic gains – growth of over 9 percent per year for the last three years, although that rate is now slowing – the levels of poverty in the country’s villages have driven millions to flee to the sprawling slum zones of India’s cities.
Rampura was set up with solar power by a project of Development Alternatives (http://www.devalt.org/), a New Delhi-based NGO working on promoting “sustainable national development”. Using US $1,406,000 from Norwegian solar power company Scatec Solar (http://www.scatecsolar.no/), it installed 60 solar panels to power 24 batteries. The village’s 69 houses are directly connected to the solar plant.
According to Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/international/), India could generate 10 percent of its electricity from solar power by 2030.
Manoj Mahata, the project’s programme director, said half of India’s 600,000 villages without electricity can now have the option of solar power.
A steady electricity supply means children are extending their study time past daylight hours. Nine-year-old Aja told the Sunday Times: “I like watching television and the light at night means I can read.”
For women, the light brought by electricity means they can take on new business opportunities to boost income. “I want to start a sewing business with other women to make tablecloths and blouses,” said mother of three Gita Dave.
“Even the buffalo are producing more milk because people can feed before dawn,” said Ghanshyam Singh Yadav, president of Rampura’s energy committee.
“This is not rocket science. This is simple,” says Katja Nordgaard, director for off-grid projects at Scatec.
“The model is relatively cheap, and it is easy to operate and maintain. It can be built in three to four weeks, and can easily be scaled up if the demand for electricity increases.
“People in India are already paying when they need to charge cell phones, and for the kerosene they use in their lamps. The willingness to pay for energy is relatively high here, especially when that energy is reliable.”
In Bangladesh, more than 230,000 households are now using solar power systems thanks to the government’s Infrastructure Development Company Ltd. (IDCOL), giving rise to opportunities for a whole new generation of entrepreneurs to make use of this new power supply for the poor. IDCOL is run by the Ministry of Finance, and is on course to install 1 million Solar Household Systems (SHS) using solar panels by 2012. The Bangladeshi government is hoping to bring electricity to all its citizens by 2020 – meaning this is now a prime time for entrepreneurs specializing in providing energy efficient products to the poor.
Another initiative to boost development in India’s rural villages is the concept of the Model Village India (www.modelvillageindia.org.in), previously profiled by Development Challenges (November 2008).
- Lighting Africa: this website run by the World Bank is a virtual business community and has forums, market intelligence, access to grants, network and partnership opportunities.
- D.light Design is dedicated to bringing modern lighting and power to more than 1.6 billion people globally currently living without electricity. They aim to be the number one player in off-grid lighting and power solutions worldwide.
- Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment.
- Unleashing India’s Innovation: Toward Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, a report by the World Bank. Website: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT
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