Tucked away in the south-western corner of Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal, the village of Keragam is home to around 230 families. Most are farmers. The nearest town is about 30 kilometers away. The state capital, Bhubaneswar, is an 11-hour drive away. The villagers grow rice and sugarcane as best they can, in a patchwork of green and brown pastures sweeping over India’s Eastern Ghats.
Until not so long ago, technological development had passed by this place. Villagers relied on backbreaking manual labor to irrigate their paddies and process the rice and sugarcane.
“We used to use a dhenki to harvest rice from our fields,” explains one of the women, referring to a device that is used to separate grains of rice from the husks.
“Until last year we were using a bullock-powered crusher to extract juice from sugarcane to make jaggery,” says another. “Five people were involved in the process, which was very time-consuming.”
Renewable, reliable, affordable access to energy for rural India…
When development, in the form of a diesel-operated rice mill, did arrive, it brought with it a new set of problems: fuel was expensive, and the women had to walk long distances to get it.
What they needed was a helping hand from new technologies – a way to upgrade their farming practices and expand their production capacity, without increasing their costs.
Last year, the solution finally arrived: a team funded by Schneider Electric installed a series of solar-powered irrigation pumps, connected to a microgrid. This self-contained electrical network lets the villagers of Keragam generate their own power, using on-site solar panels. Schneider also trained several farmers to operate the new machinery, as part of its Access to Energy program.
Since launching its Access to Energy program in 2009, Schneider Electric has been developing and commercializing safe, affordable and reliable technology solutions to harness more renewable power, improve the lives and livelihoods of people often located in remote places, and support the growing energy needs of developing countries.
“Now we’re using the solar-powered rice mill, and it’s much more convenient and less expensive for us,” says Sumani Bhandari, one of many women to have been energised by the new technology.
“They’re very low cost and low maintenance,” explains Trinath Gumudia, who now works as a microgrid operator.
In addition to freeing up the villagers to cultivate more land, the project has increased the number of harvests the villagers can bring in from one a year, to two or sometimes even three. And it has improved reliability and even generated new income, as the village can sell any excess energy the panels generate to the local grid operator.
…is a wider sustainable development imperative for the whole country
Keragam is typical of villages across rural India, and beyond: without projects such as these, access to clean, reliable and affordable energy is often challenging or non-existent. The World Bank estimates that despite significant improvements over the past decade or two, 733 million people around the globe still lack access to electricity.
Changing this is central to the Indian government’s vision for the country’s future. The overall economy has made big strides, with high-tech industries springing up and more of the population living longer, healthier lives. Beyond the major cities, however, poverty and a dependence on fossil fuels continue to pose major obstacles to sustainability.
The government has outlined ambitious targets for energy development in rural areas, and believes clean energy can offer a pathway to achieving low-carbon commitments. By 2030, it aims to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap.
Significant progress has been made. Last year, India’s performance jumped from 60 to 66 on the SDG Index, mainly due to improvements in clean water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy.
Access to energy as a basic human right
Initiatives such as Schneider Electric’s Access to Energy program play a valuable part in all this. By providing green and affordable products for rural electrification, developing skills in electricity trades, and creating local jobs through training and entrepreneurship program, we’re helping rural populations in India – and in many other developing countries — gain access to affordable, reliable and clean energy.
To find out more about how Access to Energy has transformed lives in rural India, watch the video here.