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Energy Revolution in Rural India


The smell of sweat and grease hangs heavy in the air. Dr. Shailendra Nath Sharan, fondly called “Bullu Ji,” peers through his spectacles, nodding his head as he inspects the machines. The CEO of DESI Power, an energy service company (ESCO), his quest for perfection is only heightened by his passion for what he does: find sustainable energy solutions and stimulate economic growth in rural India.

Together with the support of The Rockefeller Foundation’s work on Smart Power in India, they are leading an energy revolution in Bihar, a state of over 100 million people where only 10 percent of households are electrified. In a country where the energy crisis is coupled by challenges of extending the central grids to rural areas, many villages lack basic infrastructure, medical facilities and road connectivity.

“Shift towards renewable energy has enabled businesses to save on costs, allowing them to reinvest in business expansions and create new jobs.”

Through SPEED, micro-enterprises and ESCOs have begun to fill the gap and are working closely with communities using a new approach: “collaborative progress.” They are encouraging businesses to shift towards renewable energy power, which uses solar and biomass as its source, and offers a more affordable and reliable alternative than the costly diesel fuel.

This switch has already enabled businesses to save on costs, allowing them to reinvest in business expansions, create new jobs, and increase the productivity rate of farms as it yields more crops.

Transforming Livelihoods

Bullu Ji smiles and points out that change has begun, and even women are gaining access to opportunities. Bano Devi, one of the many women employed in DESI Power’s biomass energy plants, is vocal about her ambitions. As a woman who single-handedly takes charge of all the operations in the plant, she stands out as a beacon of hope to other women in her village.

Bhalo Devi lugs a bag of biomass up to the hopper of one of DESI Power’s gasifiers for combustion.

“I’m working hard to earn for my family and make my children study,” she says, as she hauls a sack of agro-waste onto her shoulder and deposits the content inside the machine. “I will start my own business one day, and I will also tell other women in the village to follow my footsteps.” The impact of Smart Power for Rural Development in women’s lives is not short-lived. Many women have already started their own micro-enterprises, ultimately becoming DESI Power’s customers and widening its scope for impact inside villages.

“The impact of SPEED in women’s lives is not short-lived. Many women who were employed have already started their own micro-enterprises.”

Many local business owners have also witnessed increased income from using renewable energy power. Muhammad Imran Alam, who runs Shah Jahan Computer Center in Bara, seems reflective when asked about his business as a local diesel generator operator that supplies electricity to 50 homes. Having supplied diesel generated electricity to households since 2007, he is well aware of the poor quality of light in village homes and high operational costs of diesel. Now, as a bulk buyer of DESI Power, he saves 50 percent since he made the switch. “I have bought a computer and Xerox machine with my savings, and I intend to expand my business over the next few years,” he says.

Muhammed Irshad, who runs a rice mill in Bara, is no stranger to the use of diesel either. His father had previously used a diesel generator to run his rice mill for 30 years. Seven months ago, DESI Power financially supported Irshad to replace the diesel run rice mill engine with an electric motor. Since then, he has been able to save 20 percent of his profits and installed three bulbs and a fan in the family home that he shares with his brothers and their families. “My children can finally study,” he says. “I cannot describe how happy I am!”

Similarly, Hirdalal Mandal, a rice farmer in Gayari, has also made a switch from using diesel-based irrigation pumps to electric irrigation methods. “What would take 7 hours by a diesel pump, takes 3 hours with the electric pump,” he says as he inspects his rice. The yield of water from the electric pump has doubled since making the switch and has enabled him to get maximum produce out of the 60 acres of land that he owns.

As Smart Power is piloted in India, three renewable energy power plants are currently running in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with plans of expanding to Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. By empowering people in these areas, The Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with several leading ESCOs like DESI Power and others, hopes to address serious gaps in economic development in rural India.

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