2013-09-25 - ABB’s latest Access to Electricity rural electrification project, in a remote marshland area of eastern India, has made a successful start and is already moving into a second phase.
In partnership with WWF India, ABB has set up a solar-powered multi-purpose battery charging station which is providing access to electricity for a tribal community that is still a long way from the power grid, and has never experienced the benefits of electricity.
Harnessing solar power to the battery charging station
The villagers - in a hamlet on Satjelia island in the Sundarbans area of West Bengal - can now receive charged batteries for a nominal sum of money from the centrally-located charging station which has a generating capacity of 4.1 kilowatts of power from solar energy. More than 50 households and 13 local stores have so far gained access to electricity, and are enjoying the social, economic and safety benefits.
Under the scheme, the villagers go to the charging station, register and take a fully-charged battery with them. When it is empty, they return it and immediately take another fully-charged replacement. The charging station controller keeps a detailed record of all battery exchanges, and the people using them are billed monthly.
The majority of the participants in the scheme have replaced kerosene lamps with fluorescent lamps. Access to clean, reliable and cheap energy allows shops to stay open later, evening classes to be held, and people to use electrical goods like telephones and televisions. In addition, electrical power avoids the negative health impacts of kerosene fumes.
Women are central to the success of the project
“This system has changed my life in many regards.
I already see a positive impact on my small business of stitching cloths,” said Minati Aulia.”My eight-year-old daughter gets a lot of time to study during the evening without the risk of inhaling kerosene fumes. I also use this system to charge my cell phone and torch, run a small fan and power a small music system and radio at home. Now I don’t have to depend on the availability of kerosene in the local market.”
There are also some clear environmental benefits. The use of solar energy instead of kerosene for lighting will save about five to ten tons of carbon emissions each year; and the villagers are also learning about the need to ensure future development takes the fragile ecosystem into account.
The village is located across a river from the Sundarbans mangrove forest, a national reserved wild life park and a UNESCO world heritage site. The village lights discourage tigers from straying from the mangrove into inhabited areas.
Empowerment of women
Key to success has been local ownership of the project. The WWF led training programs and public dialogue on the project to ensure buy-in by the villagers.
The advent of electrical power is opening up new opportunities
A seven-member council, including five women, was set up to manage and administer the project, and collect the monthly dues. Most of the women on the council cannot read or write, and had never seen a bank. But as a result of the project, the women have built up their knowledge and understanding of financial institutions and savings mechanisms – key factors in the project’s success.
The women’s empowerment has, in turn, enhanced their status, paving the way for greater equality and respect in the community.
There is still further capacity to expand the project as not all the power that is generated is being used. In addition a second phase is about to be launched, with the installation of a solar energy powered charging station driving a rice huller.
The huller will be used to husk rice – the staple crop in the area. This will replace the diesel and kerosene generators which are currently used for the work. And it will also mean that fuel no longer has to be transported to the island over long distances from the mainland.
The project in West Bengal is the latest in a series of Access to Electricity schemes run by ABB in conjunction with non-governmental organizations.
ABB has a global agreement with WWF International, under which they jointly run a rural electrification project in Tanzania. And in another similar project, ABB teamed up with a different NGO to bring distributed solar power to remote hamlets in the Rajasthan area of western India. ABB produced an award-winning film on both these projects which is available for download.