As technology improves and concerns continue to rise about energy availability and security, there’s much debate here in the U.S. about what kinds of energy sources governments and utilities should be looking to for future use.
In many developing nations, however, there is great debate regarding the nearly two billion people – one in every five humans on earth – who don’t have access to electricity. They depend on wood, coal, kerosene, even animal waste for cooking and lighting.
Such is the case in rural India, where some 400 million people go without electricity each day. And this makes the recent unveiling by SunEdison of the company’s “Eradication of Darkness” program – where it will design, install and manage distributed-generation solar power plants, to provide energy to Indian villages that have never before had access to electricity – all the more interesting.
The reality is that a lack of basic, fundamental services such as electricity limits education and economic opportunities and makes populations more vulnerable to sickness and famine, something the SunEdison Eradication of Darkness program is working to address.
“This program is making electricity accessible to citizens in India who have never dreamt of having it in their homes or workplaces,” said Ahmad Chatila, President and Chief Executive Officer of MEMC, SunEdison’s parent company. “We have the opportunity to improve standards of living by enabling sustainable changes in the lifestyles, health, education and community affairs of thousands of people.”
Starting in the village of Meerwada, the program will be implemented in stages, using solar energy to electrify 29 villages in the Guna District that have been identified for the next phase.
This adds to SunEdison’s already-impressive solar power portfolio in India, with more than 50 MW ranging from small rooftop installations to being part of South Asia’s largest solar field in Gujarat to a recently completed 1 MW project suspended over the Narmada Canal that conserves drinking water while producing clean energy.
The 14-kilowatt Meerwada project supplies electricity to 400 villagers, and before it was operational, residents walked one to two miles for drinking water each day, and kerosene lamps were the only source of lighting. Not only is the village difficult to reach by vehicle, it is surrounded by protected forestland where it is prohibited to run traditional power lines.
“As challenging as logistics are in rural electrification – especially in this case – it is important that residents have a voice in the development, deployment and management of a solution,” said Pashupathy Gopalan, SunEdison’s Managing Director of South Asia and Sub-Sarahan Operations “We have worked very hard to understand their needs and provide education about the possibilities of electricity. We believe education is one the most important aspects to ensuring the project’s success.”
SunEdison personnel spent weeks with residents selecting the optimal site for the power plant, providing safety education, and establishing a council that will oversee the billing and maintenance, and safeguard the system from vandalism or theft.
The Meerwada project was designed and engineered as a pilot-case for rural electrification. The additional 29 planned villages in the Guna District are expected to be funded through a combination of government grants and private funds from other investors and corporations. Implementation of the next 29 villages is intended to test and develop a successful business model that will enable the electrification of even more villages around the world.
“The day-to-day challenges faced by people who do not have electricity are beyond imagination to many of us,” Chatila continued. “Being able to improve people’s lives is an honor, and we are committed to continuing this effort in collaboration with the people of India.”
Meet the residents of Meerwada by watching the video below.