Odisha Renewable Energy Development Agency

 

SALEPADA POWER PLANT: A Success Story
 
 

Salepada is a small hamlet of the Gatibeda revenue village in Sunabeda GP of Komna block. Situated in the midst of the scenic Sunabeda plateau it is a picturesque hamlet surrounded by forest and natural habitat. A total number of 40 households are located in the village, which houses a total population of 206 inhabitants. The people belong to the Chuktia-bhunjia tribe. The Chuktia-bhunjias are a primitive tribe who were given recognition under the 8 th five-year plan. The term ‘bhunjia' denotes land. They believe that their ancestors were people who were born directly out of the land. A micro-project for the tribe under the aegis of Chuktia-Bhunjia Development Agency (CBDA) has been constituted for their holistic development. This agency is implementing welfare work for the people of that area pertaining mainly to their socio-economic development.

The Chuktia-Bhunjias have lived in deprivation for ages. Holistic, integrated development entails that their basic needs as human beings be met in a humane manner. Centuries of darkness had prevailed over the place, so the need for light to penetrate the dark was felt immensely. The geographically hostile location of the hamlet in the plateau region and its incompatible distance from the grid makes the extension of conventional power a far-fetched proposal since grid cannot be extended to certain locations due to logistic and environmental conditions. So the need was to look for alternative sources of power generation. Under such circumstances the only alternative was to exercise the option of non-conventionals for power generation.

A recent study by the MNES on comparison of relative costs of electrification of remote villages through conventional grid and the SPV power basing on the net present value of life cost over a period of 20 years reveals that solar electrification is more economical for villages located beyond 3 kms in hilly areas and 7 kms in plains from the grid. The lack of organized stall fed cattle inhibited establishing of a CBP in the area. Moreover potential PV Systems when used on a large scale cuts down the need for extending the distribution grids in rural areas and the resultant losses in transmission. MNES along with the executing agencies has made sustained efforts for the deployment of photovoltaic systems in rural areas. A considerable amount of experience has been gathered on technical, economic, social and management issues. An analysis of the experience shows that SPV technologies can be a viable alternative to extension of grid lines to electrify villages, especially in remote and difficult areas. The solar home systems offer quick and convenient method for electrification of households in remote and difficult villages and hamlets in the country. Besides providing lighting facility such systems also provide electricity for operating TV, radio, fans and other small needs. A typical home system works 3-5 hrs a day. The experience of such interventions in different parts of the country and the success generated thus beckoned the Ministry to propose that 18,000 villages be electrified using PV technology. In fact the recent Government policy aims at extending recognition to PV technology. A greater reliance is being placed on this technology. Policy is directed towards a greater thrust on all aspects of PV technology and applications. Recent policies measures provide excellent opportunities for increased investment, technological up gradation, induction of new technology, market development and export promotion.

Thus the installation of SPV power plant under the aegis of UNDP-DESI Development Programme for demonstration of power generation through renewables.

The present study divides the lessons of Salepada into two main parts. The first part sets the parameters of, the baseline, the feasibility standards and anticipates the probable risks. While the second part subsequently, examines the realities of Salepada within the pre-set paradigm.

Before commencing with the analysis of the project, it is imperative that the targeted area should fulfill the pre-set criterions. The baseline indicators, which qualify an area for electrification under the sub-program activities, are as follows: -

  • Area not electrified
  • No accessibility to conventional power
  • Far from conventional grid
  • Uses kerosene only
  • Paying capacity negligible

Salepada situated in the inaccessible and hostile plateau region of Sunabeda fits the bill perfectly. The area fulfills all the baseline considerations and fits the project considerations.

The feasibility standards of implementing the project in the given area have to be determined. The following feasibility criterions have to be addressed:

  • Availability of sufficient shadow free space
  • Assessment of energy needs
  • Determining the felt need of energy
  • Assessing the paying capacity of the people
  • Presence of a social life
  • Existence of community feeling

Within the set parameters of the feasibility standards the Salepada situation needs to be analyzed. Salepada does possess enough shadow free space as required for setting up a SPV plant. However the hostile terrain renders the area inaccessible thus impeding the path of conventional grid connection to the area. Moreover the restricted paying capacity of the people further inhibits grid extension. Under such circumstances renewables is the right response to the situation. The tribal community of Salepada comprising the Chuktia-bhunjias is a well-knitted community with a very adhesive social bonding amongst them.

After elucidating the feasibility standards it is imperative to weigh out the pros and cons of installing SPV power plant for power generation. Likewise for any project it is a prudent step to anticipate the probable risks and take adequate measures to guard against these obstacles. The disadvantages that accompany the plant are quite superficial. The modular nature of the plant allows for adjustments to be made in future, if required, provided there are funds to support the venture. However assuming that no such arrangements are possible in the future the disadvantages and the risks can be enumerated as follows: -

  • Inability to cater to future increase in demand for power

  • Continuous cloudy days may render plant inactive

  • Motorized loads cannot be operated
  • Limited supply of electricity
  • The Salepada SPV plant has a restricted capacity of 2 Kw. Incase there is an increase in consumption of power at a future date the plant will not be able to cater to the increase in demand. This restricted capacity inhibits the use of motorized loads thus limiting power use to basic and minimum energy needs. Likewise the electricity generated provides supply for only 5 hours to households and 12 hours for streetlights. A constraining factor is that beyond three consecutive cloudy days the plant will not function effectively. However juxtaposing the advantages, which can be extracted out of a SPV power plant, with the drawbacks it is realized that the benefits the plant yields are manifold. The very fact that the plant is independent of daily contribution of the community is its greatest asset. For often community concern becomes no one's concern – a problem generally observed with the functioning of the CBPs.

An intensive study of SPV power plants reveals certain facts, which could serve as guidelines to analyze the status of a given plant: -

  • Centralized power supply
  • Community based model
  • Modular in nature
  • CFL and other accessories easily available in the market as the systems operate on A.C.
  • Systems could be covered under insurance schemes
  • Manufacturer/supplier of system provide 10 years maintenance warranty that includes replacement of battery, modules etc
  • The village community could take up battery replacement and related maintenance beyond 10 years. If a minimum tariff of Rs.30/- is collected and kept in the bank account of the VEMC
  • Needs capacity building within the community to operate, repair and maintain the system
  • Outlets for sale of accessories providing service could be opened under existing MNES schemes like RESSO, REWSHG, for a cluster of villages.

Salepada possesses sufficient shadow free open space and receives adequate solar insulation for about 300 days a year. Average sunshine hours per day are around 6-7 hours. Thus the SPV power plant was better suited to the locale. A 2 kw size SPV plant was established. Number of Home lights installed was 85 along with 8 lights for street illumination of the area. Each home received 9 watt CFL for illumination purpose. Besides for community use 5 extra points including a TV point and 8 streetlights of 11 watt each were provided. A 2 Kw PV power plant can easily cater to the total load of 0.944 Kwp. Illumination for 5 hours per day, 5p.m.-11p.m., had been fixed. The supplier took up the responsibility for post-operation and maintenance of the plant in the coming decade. A VEMC had been formed to look in to matters concerning tariff collection, misuse of power, proper maintenance of the power plant by the supplier's authorized representative and to act as a mediating organization between the villagers, the suppliers and the DESI development project office. The villagers pay a monthly tariff of Rs.30/-. Funds thus collected shall be kept in separate bank account and shall be operated as per provision of the MOA for constitution of the VEMC. The interest of the revolving fund provided under the project shall be augmented to funds of VEMC. Since the day-to-day expenditure on maintenance of power plant will be negligible for a period of 10 years the fund developed through collection of tariff and augmentation of interest on revolving fund could be utilized for capacity addition and even replication.

Salepada's story is a journey from darkness to light. This journey witnessed a transition in the lives of the people. People, who had hitherto existed in isolation, in darkness, were over whelmed by the presence of light in their lives. This marks the beginning of a new phase in their existence.

A visit to Salepada brings forth the pent-up emotions of the inhabitants. Light has finally penetrated their centuries of dark existence. The illumination outside seemed to light up their faces. Interaction with the people mainly the women folk portrays their immense satisfaction at the present state of affairs and at the fulfillment of their basic needs; the dreams of the future could be seen in their eyes. The light penetrates their centuries of misery. Sudden electricity availability in the place beckons a new era of light that promises to illuminate the area and light up lives of the inhabitants. The people themselves very willingly and lucidly enumerated the benefits of the project.

The extension of light has made a remarkable difference in the education of children. Their study hours have increased beyond sundown. They are now able to study for longer hours; this extension in duration has made a considerable difference in the quality of their education. Moreover the adult literacy centers have started functioning after dark at a convenient time when the adult population is available. This has ensured the participation of the people and serves the purpose of the literacy center.

The presence of streetlights has also influenced recreation of the children. They play outside in the dark for longer hours without being scared of snakebite. The increase both in study hours and in play hours will inevitably usher in an overall holistic development of the children. Streetlights have not only made life more enriching for children even the adults have benefited tremendously. Earlier people would retire to their homes very soon after darkness set in and go to sleep earlier to save on expensive kerosene. But the advent of electricity has changed the scenario. A change in daily habits, emphasizing more on utilization of time is seen. The people now visit each other in the late evenings, thereby strengthening social bonds and building enduring relationships. Thus enabling the community to form a cohesive bond, which in turn mobilizes the community to work in tandem, preparing the ground for further cooperative action.

The people unanimously agreed that one of their main concerns was the attack of wild animals. Often after dark the wild beasts would prey on the domestic animals but now the situation has undergone a change. The fear of lurking wild animals does not exist. The light manages to stave them off. The mortal fear of beasts has reduced considerably and people do not hesitate to venture out in the dark. Moreover the hapless domestic beasts are also spared.

The people claim to have benefited not only from the social point of view but also from the point of view of livelihood generating activities. Vocational training for self-employment has been initiated. After sun down the presence of light ensures that other activities like sewing, handicrafts are undertaken. Sewing machines are already in use for training the youth and women for income generating activities. In fact more such activities are on the itinerary.

Salepada is a burning example of community action coupled with the participation and involvement of the community at every step. It envisages a programme, which involves the participation of the community at every step. The community was organized to be involved right from the conception, formation of the VEMC to the present activity involving income generation. The cohesive bond portrayed by the community was further strengthened by the presence of acclimatizing factors, the people were willing to shelve aside their personal differences and work in unison for community benefit at large.

Thus the project success could be ensured. The visit to the place left the impression of a success that was mainly possible through the untiring efforts of the field workers and the cooperative zeal of the people. Salepada is a story of a collective dream that took concrete shape through collective effort. The success of the project in this place thus serves as role model for future emulation.