“If the electricity goes away in the morning, it doesn’t come back for the entire day,” says Supriya Mandol, whose village is in the Sundarbans Kalitala in West Bengal. “The voltage also fluctuates all the time. This is a recurring phenomenon that we live with.”

Mandol says that having constant access to electricity is a dream for villagers there. Despite advancements, several households of rural India do not have electricity.

According to the Central Electricity Authority of India, the total number of villages electrified in India as of March 31, 2021, was 5,97,464. Similarly, the number of villages in the country as per the 2011 census is 5,97,464. Based on the data, 100 per cent of villages have been electrified.

With households in several rural parts of India still without access to electricity, NGOs and other organisations are attempting have come up to fill the gap.

Read: Green credits for sustainable development of agriculture

“We have had schemes like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana and the subsequent schemes, which aim to electrify 100 per cent of households,” says Akash Sharma, Assistant Policy Analyst, CUTS International (a think tank and advocacy group). “But the question remains if these households can afford this electricity even at a subsidised risk,.” he added.

Having quality and reliable power that is supplied 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at a desired voltage is the perfect- world scenario; as it is a tall order for a country the size of India, renewable energy could help us address these challenges, adds Sharma.

Renewable energy as the alternative

The government has said that it aims to have 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030.

To understand how renewable energy is being used in villages, businessline spoke to Srinivas Ramanujam, CEO of Villgro. The Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) and Villgro (a non-profit organisation) have collaborated to provide “mainstream clean energy in rural livelihoods.” The project, “aims to enhance women’s participation across the value chain”.

“India has the single largest connected grid in the world. The question we are addressing is not so much about the connection to the grid. The more important question today is whether I have access to sufficient solutions that can harness power to improve my productivity and livelihood,” says Ramanujam.

Ramanujam says that they use solar energy, biomass, and biogas to generate power in the villages. By shifting away from manual or electricity-dependent operations, women can overcome the limitations caused by power outages. Running motors and batteries on solar power ensures independence from power availability, enabling consistent work.

With the use of renewable energy, women’s roles have been enhanced. For example, in Udupi (Karnataka), previously, women’s roles in the value chain were limited to selling fish on ice, leading to spoilage and revenue loss. However, with solar-powered refrigerators), women now have more control over inventory and can provide additional services, improving their standing and generating good revenue, says Shashikanth Subramanya, Manager Partnerships, Climate Action, Villgro.

Also read: India doing very well on climate action: Union Minister R K Singh

Use of solar dryers

Raheja Solar Food Processing, a social enterprise, provides farmers with “solar dryers to create value-added products from the produce that otherwise goes to waste or is sold at very low prices.” Founder, Varun Raheja, says, ”Overproduction has resulted in significant wastage, causing losses for farmers. Our model addresses these issues by dehydrating produce, such as tomatoes, watermelon, mangoes, and bananas, turning them into premium products. This value addition enables farmers to preserve and sell their products when market prices are favourable.”

Cost of implementation per cluster  

While renewable energy implementation has its own benefits, it also has its own costs. For instance, India needs at least ₹2.44 lakh crore to install 500 GW of renewable energy, as per a committee by the Central Electricity Authority.

For about 200 households, if we want to set up a solar power plant and supply electricity to each house, it will cost about ₹60 lakh to ₹1 crore depending on the terrain, and the additional infra required like transmission posts, insulated transmission cables, safety installations, says Ramanujam.

Doing the above would give approx 30 units/month of electricity to each house and support a few common amenities, adds Ramanujam.

Ramanujam’s organisation works with microfinance institutions to help farmers make the best of government schemes. This enables access to financing options for farmers and self-help groups, addressing initial cost challenges.

If an individual household wants to power a few lights, fans, TVs, etc on renewable energy, there are a vast variety of options ranging between ₹5,000 to ₹1 lakh but the individual must bear the capital cost or avail loan, says Ramanujam.

Subramanya adds that the cost is primarily on the initial adoption (capital expenditure) rather than running or maintenance expenses. It is more affordable in the long run.

“Now, when it comes to the entry barrier, which is the cost of adoption, we’ll have to see how this entire ecosystem can come together to solve it,” he adds.