The residents of the island of Ghoramara may live through dark days that threaten to render them homeless, but their nights aren’t so dim.
One of the many islands in the Sunderbans that are at risk of submergence owing to rising sea levels and the vagaries of human interventions, Ghoramara is not connected to any power grid. “Why would the government spend money connecting an island that is drowning,” says the local priest, only half in jest. Yet, Ghoramara’s streets are well-lit and its residents have fans to give them respite from sweltering heat of summers. “You will not find a single house in the dark anymore,” says the priest. That’s because the island has been electrified entirely by solar power. Given the harsh terrain of the Sunderbans, connecting the island to the grid would entail enormous costs, but solar power is something of a boon. Where non-governmental organisations and the government alike earlier distributed solar lanterns to the villagers, households are now being connected to solar microgrids instead, improving the quality of life and increasing the number of appliances that can be used by the households.
A feasible option
Abhimanyu Sahu, Chief Operating Officer, Schneider Electric India Foundation, says, “In remote villages where the loads aren’t too heavy and which are far from the power grid (conventional energy), solar is not only feasible, but the way to go.”
Schneider Electric, along with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) India, intends to electrify at least 1,000 households in the Sunderbans. It has finished the project in two villages, Patherpada and Annpur, comprising 264 households. Sahu says connecting these villages to solar microgrids entails minimal transmission loss because of the shorter distribution lengths; also, households can connect more appliances this way than if they installed solar panels. Several organisations have installed microgrids in villages of Sunderbans, making life easier and safer. According to Sahu, installing a microgrid for a small village costs about ₹35,000 per household. “Grid connectivity will be more expensive. Just setting up distribution lines in these terrains will hike the costs,” he says. According to the Central Electricity Authority, the average cost of supplying power has doubled in 10 years — from ₹2.54 per unit in 2004-05 to ₹5.2 in 2014-15. The cost of solar power, meanwhile, has fallen more than 80 per cent in the past five years, from over ₹17 per unit to just 2.44. By the end of 2016, India had an installed capacity of 42,849 MW from renewable sources and has a target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2021-22.