Good job bringing this to light. People won't realise how huge the problem is and municipalities are woefully ill equipped to...
Agreed; mining can never be sustainable, but then how do you get the metals to make all the things you need in the course of...
Very good piece.
when darkness approaches Sagar Island in the Sunderban delta of West Bengal, life no longer comes to a standstill. A silent revolution is slowly taking place in this remote island. More than 1000 houses are today electrified by solar energy through distribution lines, and more such projects are in the pipeline.
Rich in mangrove swamps, waterways and small rivers, Sagar Island is also home to the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. This unique island is one of the largest islands of the Sunderbans with a total area of around 300 sq kms, and a population of more than 1.5 lakhs spread over 16 villages. It is located approximately 90 kms south of Kolkata and separated from the main land by the river Muri Ganga, which is half an hour's ride by ferry.
Due to its remote location the island has no connection to the grid power since it would require an enormous amount for the infrastructure. "It is economically and technologically not viable," says S P Gon Chaudhari, director, West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency ( wbreda ). Due to this problem, the best option is non-conventional energy.
Till recently, around 650 households were dependent on diesel generators supplied by the West Bengal State Electricity Board ( wbseb ). But due to huge losses there are no plans to expand its services. In some villages, private operators run diesel generators and supply electricity for a few hours charging a huge amount. But the situation is gradually changing and a number of solar power plants have come up since the inception of the wbreda in 1993.
The first power plant set up in 1995-1996 is still in operation: many spv s have been added since then. Currently, there are eight solar photovoltaic ( spv ) power plants of around 25 and 26 kw in the entire island. Each plant supplies power to approximately 130 households within a periphery of 1.5 kms. The entire connection is carried out impressively through underground cabling.
The ministry of non-conventional energy source, Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency and the state government bears the cost of establishing these plants by contributing 50, 40 and 10 per cent respectively. The cost of the plants ranges from Rs 85 lakh to Rs 2.7 crore.
With the support of wbreda , the local community carried out the entire operation efficiently. "Since the communities are the beneficiaries they will take extra care not to get the plant damaged," says Choudhari. The local panchayat selects the location for the power plant and the local co-operative -- Sagardweep Rural Energy Development Co-operative Society Limited -- carries out tasks like plant management and collecting money. Its members include actual consumers of power, local panchayat and block level government functionaries. A revenue collector visits each power plant twice a month, on pre-determined dates, when the people come and deposit their monthly charges.
Sushanta Mandal, a local school teacher and a member of the local panchayat is assigned to collect the bills and complaints. "Involvement of the local people, the type of machinery used, and the method of implementation of the project are the main reasons for the success," asserts Choudhari.
There are two sets of connections. The first set includes three compact fluorescent lamps ( cfl s) with three light points, while the second set has five light points. Both the sets include two plug points -- for a fan and a black and white television. Apart from the initial deposit, the consumer pays a monthly bill of Rs 75 or Rs 120, depending upon the set opted for five hours of power supply per day. This tariff is structured by the wbreda . According to Tapan Chakraborty, supervisor, electric, wbreda , consumers still prefer the Rs 120 slot. During winter, electricity is supplied from 5-10 pm and in summer, from 6-11 pm. "During festivals and examinations, we offer extra power," says Chakraborty.
A controller has been installed in every house to note the amount of consumption, so this also reduces the chance of power theft.
The spv s have brought significant changes in the lives of the local people, who are mainly dependent on agriculture and fishing. "We can segregate the betel leaves at night under the street lights," says a pan vendor. The betel leaves are sold for Rs 300 per 1,000 leaves. A shopkeeper, Anwar Ali mentions: "I used to close my shop early, as I could not afford to run it on generator sets, but now I open till late at night with minimal expenditure." A rural revolution is gradually emerging in this island and the tv s and radios are helping the people of Sagar Island to expand their horizons.
In the Mrityunjoyganj village, about 50 per cent of the people who were earlier dependent on diesel generators have now switched over to solar power plant.
The political leaders also played a significant role in the success of the projects in the island. Mrinal Sen and Dipankar Mukherjee, (both members of Parliament) contributed a significant amount for the development of spv power plants in Sagar Island.
Following this success, many power producers have entered into a contract with the wbreda for maintenance of the plants. Webel Solar, a well-known company based in West Bengal, Tata BP solar, a joint venture of Tata and British Petroleum Solar are the prominent ones.
According to Chaudhari, there are 1,000 unelectrified villages in remote areas of West Bengal. "The wbreda has taken up the herculean task of lighting up these villages in the next five years," adds Choudhari. For the current year, they plan to electrify 200 villages.