It depends on how seriously society cares about rural energy access for husk power to become a real game-changer, Gyanesh Pandey, CEO, Husk Power Systems, informs R Srinivasan.The Husk Power company's CEO Gyanesh Pandey, when we met on the sidelines of Rudicon said that he had always wanted to do something for the rural areas where he came from. He spoke to us about the potential of husk-based power systems, initial teething problems (also negative perceptions) and how they were overcome and challenges faced, also in terms of policies, etc. Excerpts of the interview:What were the initial mechanical and electrical teething problems (also negative perceptions) that you may have faced and how they were overcome?Finding the right technology was the biggest challenge because practically all the technological development in the field of clean energy was focussed more on the clean part rather than the affordability. Initially, people thought we were crazy but we kept on. Once the scheme worked, the perceptions changed.What challenges did you face, also in terms of policies?Practically everything we have done and still do requires innovation - from the machines and gadgets to processes and manpower. Policies existed but were not well suited for the needs of rural energy access. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, due to the able leadership of then secretary, Deepak Gupta, made amendments to its subsidy policy with our inputs.What is the potential of husk power (MW) in India?More than 3,000 MW from rice husk alone and if we include other agri-residue, it goes to much over 10,000 MW.How many husk-based projects have been carried out till date by Husk Power Systems (HPS) and in which states? We have 87 projects in Bihar and a couple in eastern Uttar Pradesh.How do homes and villages connect to this kind of power?We set up our own mini-distribution grid and connect homes to it.What is the rate at which power is produced and sold?The production cost depends on the price of the biomass. Villagers pay ~Rs 100 per month for two lights and for charging their cellphones.How does it compare (rate wise) with other forms of energy?As far as the cost of installation is concerned, it is next to a simple diesel genset and cheaper than coal-fired plants, solar, wind and every other technology. As far as the cost of production is concerned, it is more expensive than thermal power generated but about half the price of solar and wind.How much (amount) would be required in terms of government subsidy?The government already has a subsidy mechanism. But the disbursement is not very streamlined and there is no predictability in disbursement.What are the issues apart from raw material availability?Raw material availability is not a big issue in our scheme because it relies on raw material from local areas only and various different kinds of agri-residue such as rice husk, wheat husk, rice straw, mustar shell and stalk, maize cob, etc., can be used. The main issue is the availability of skilled manpower and financing for rural people to adopt this technology.What are your aspirations of the future in terms of husk power?This is a serious candidate for the magic wand that may drastically alter the situation of rural energy access. More than 75 per cent of the un-electrified villages may benefit from it. It depends on how seriously the society cares about the rural energy access for a scheme like to this to become a real game-changer.About Husk Power SystemsIn August 2007, Husk Power Systems (HPS), which uses rice husk to generate electricity, was established. Today, the company has installed 60 mini-power plants that power ~ 25,000 households in over 250 villages and hamlets and impact lives of approximately 150,000 people in rural India.On an average, each power plant serves about 400 households and replaces ~ 42,000 litres of kerosene and 18,000 litres of diesel per year. As of August 2010, the company had sequestered 50,000 tonnes of CO2. The company had also employed and trained over 300 local people to manage the power plants. By 2014, it plans to serve ~ 6,500 villages, save 750,000 tonnes of CO2, create 7,000 local jobs and save $50 million in cash for over five million people by replacing kerosene and diesel with its proprietary renewable energy technology.The organisation and Gyanesh have been winning awards and accolades. In October 2011 HPS won the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) award to establish operations in Tanzania. In June 2011 it won the International Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy and in September 2010 it was honoured by the Tech Museum of Innovation for applying technology to benefit humanity. It was also featured in the opinion pages on New York Times in January 2011 for empowering villages in Bihar. Quite recently Gyanesh too had bagged a ‘Real Heroes’ award.
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