Chattisgarh has tried, tested and proved solar microgrids to be the most successful means of remote area electrification.
The tiny state of Chattisgarh, rich in minerals, has more than 43 per cent of as forest area, where safety concerns prevent grid electrification. This made it ideal for the authorities to explore solar photo voltaic (PV) technology since the Electricity Act 2003 allows distribution of electricity in villages without formal permission of State Electricity Boards. The state agency, CREDA obtained the list of un-electrified villages from Chattisgarh State Electricity Board and installed stand alone solar home lighting systems in 500 villages through 100 per cent subsidy program. The system comprised of PV modules, cables, an inverter, a battery and two 11 Watt CFLs. A survey in 2004 showed that of the 617 solar modules installed in tribal hostels, ashrams and primary health centers, nearly 500 were stolen. This prompted CREDA to explore alternative methods and finally opted for solar PV microgrids. The cost of setting up a microgrid (PV power system and transmission cables) per household is Rs 25,000/- as against a home-lighting system that costs Rs 14,000/-. Although a microgrid is costlier compared to a home lighting system they prevent theft and require minimal maintenance, hence the capital funds invested is protected. Secondly, they increased the size of a single module from 50 Wp to 75 Wp. Due to increased size and heavy it was virtually difficult to steal this size of module.
The success story of village electrification through microgrid PV was shared with the then Chief Minister of the state in the year 2005, while on his visit to a village in Bastar district. He called a school girl and asked her since kerosene light was already available does she really feel the need for a solar powered lamp. The girl boldly replied ´Sir, take this lantern and try reading. For better visualisation, I need to be very close to it and the hazardous smoke that emanate penetrates my lungs. I am really concerned about my health. So for me, to live long, solar PV light is a boon to meö. Immediately, the Chief Minister declared that all un-electrified villages and tribal hostels in the state would have solar power for basic lighting needs.
Commendable Maintenance set-up
Underlying the fact that maintenance would be imperative to ensure trouble-free working of the microgrid systems CREDA envisaged a three-tier system. An operator was chosen from each solar-powered village to clean solar modules every day and report any faults to the respective nominated cluster technician. For this, he charges Rs 5 from each house a month. For regular maintenance of batteries and inverters and for fixing technical problems, the operator directly receives a payment of Rs 30 per household per month from the state government. This is equivalent to the subsidy that the Chhattisgarh government provides to families below the poverty line (BPL) families in grid-connected areas for availing one kWh per day. Table-1 below gives the annual expenditure on maintenance by CREDA.
CREDA also enrols an operation and maintenance contractor, who appoints a cluster technician for every 10-15 villages. Each technician earns Rs 4,000/- and if desires a two wheeled motorbike it is provided in easy instalments of Rs 1,000/- per month. The technician is also paid a fixed monthly fee as given in Table-2. The third tier is managed by CREDA, which monitors all installations through monthly reports and replaces equipment in case of major breakdowns. This record is maintained by uninterrupted scheduled power supply has not only minimised cases of stealing or selling solar panels, it has fuelled the commercial demand for solar systems in the region. CREDA has devised the structure of maintenance such that the solar PV system provides un-interrupted power and in case any light fuses there are sufficient lamps kept in stock with each technician. The technician is given a free hand for replacements for defunct lamps and spares need not wait for formal permission.
There are more than 1,400 operators at different locations maintaining solar PV systems. 75 technicians and about 60 supervisors are also engaged to undertake any kind of repairing work of invertors and other electronics. CREDA has trained more than 500 persons for installations and maintenance of Solar systems. There are 20 service centres of various manufacturers in the state spread across state to report any defects in functioning of the systems.
Another cause of the success of the program is that systems purchased are from those manufacturers who have at least one office in the state. This ensured less downtime in case of system failures, since majority of the manufacturers prime manufacturing bases are located 1,000 kilometers away from the state.
Ravana - Case of Success Story
A visit to village Ravana about 100 km from the capital city of state Raipur revealed immense satisfaction of the villagers. Two positive outcomes of the success are increased literacy and safety from wild animals.
Prior to solar lights, the village would plunge to darkness and kerosene lamp did not provide sufficient illumination to the children. Most essentially, the noxious smoke posed health hazard. As a result the dropouts from school was very high and most of them would leave studies when they attained the age of 12 years. A school teacher cites the reason that as the child progress to a higher grade, the syllabus increases and the limited supply of kerosene and poor light would not help them complete the studies and they would also confine to their houses by 6 pm when it gets dark. The school, usually, gets over by 3 pm and the child has to immediately do home work before darkness sets in. This was stressful to the student and was the major cause for opting out of school. Also it deprived the child of any play and socialising activities. With the availability of lights until late evening thanks to solar PV system it has lead to sharp rise in literacy rates. There are even testimonials of students achieving top ranks equivalent to urban students and has made easier for them to pursue higher studies.
Prior to commissioning of solar PV lights wild animals like leopards would haunt this village and take away children but the illumination from solar power has scared wild animals.
National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) had worth Rs 1.35 billion funds to be spent under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CREDA officials approached NMDC officials for their support to solar PV projects to provide basic power to villages, who readily agreed to share their CRS funds for electrification as it meets their social goals.
- Jaideep N. Malaviya, CEO, Malaviya Solar Energy Consultancy
Table 1: Expenditure on maintenance of PV microgrids by CREDA
|Annual Maintenance Contracts (AMC)for Cluster based |
service delivery of PV microgrids
|No. of Villages / cluster
|No. of Customers/Village
|Total No. of Customers/cluster
|Collection per Customer (Rs)
|-Through CREDA (Rs)
|Total collection/ cluster/ month (Rs)
|Total AMC collection / cluster (Rs)
Table-2: Annual expenses on service and maintenance per cluster
|Nos. ||Rate (INR) ||Rate (INR) |