Smart power programme boosts small biz in state

PATNA: Raj Kumar Shah of Siwan exemplifies entrepreneurs whose business has grown over the past few months owing to the setting up of a decentralised renewable energy (DRE) mini-grid plant under the Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) programme.

Raj Kumar owns a general store cum printing shop near the main village market.

Its being one of the few printing shops among the 150 other shops in Nabiganj village, he has a regular customer influx. However, till a year ago, his printing business didn’t reap desired profits; the technology was time-worn, electricity availability was a major hindrance and his financial condition didn’t allow for any kind of investment towards machine upgrade. He was losing business of close to Rs 5,000 per month because of his inability to deliver the services on time.

Now, there are 25 operational plants across East Champaran, West Champaran, Araria, Supaul, Gaya, Saran and Gopalganj districts in Bihar. Two plants are in the construction phase in Gaya and West Champaran districts. The 25 plants are being operated, managed and maintained by Smart Power India’s (SPI) partner Energy Service Companies (ESCO). These are based on solar, biomass and hybrid (solar+biomass) technology. Approximately, 800KW of renewable capacity has already been commissioned in the state.

The decentralized electricity generation can make use of different renewable energy sources available in the state. Since Bihar is an agriculture based economy, rural areas have readily available biomass and large surfaces in the rural areas can be used for solar energy generation under SPRD programme, says Disha Banerjee, director, policy & communications, SPI.

Banerjee told TOI that the Rockefeller Foundation incorporated the SPI to implement the SPRD programme, which is an innovative, market-based model that operates through decentralized renewable energy (DRE) mini-grids powered by sources such as solar and biomass. Sustainable DRE mini-grids go beyond household lighting with a focus on productive use by creating an ecosystem that drives socio-economic development, she said.

Currently, there is only one anchor customer (a telecom tower) at the Bheldi site in Saran district. This solar mini-grid plant of 30kW capacity was commissioned in February, 2015. However, even when a connection to the national grid is available, the service of electricity is inadequate. Multiple electrification options are currently being explored and the SPRD programme can substantiate and complement the state government’s efforts towards rural electrification, Banerjee said.

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