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DESI Power: Electricity and Jobs for Rural India

Project Stories

DESI Power: Electricity and Jobs for Rural India

BAHARBARI, India – When the sun sets, all activity halts in most villages in the state of Bihar. One of the poorest Indian states, Bihar lacks infrastructure, particularly in power.

“Children can’t do their homework, or we can’t cook or walk down the streets after the sunset,” said Baharbari resident Janki Devi Yadav.

But since March 2007, villagers have power thanks to a power plant that combines off-grid power production with wheat processing and battery charging. Built by non-profit organization DESI Power through a 2006 DM grant using Global Environmental Facility funds, the plant brings power to three villages by constructing four power plants. It also acts as an irrigation pump and provides jobs for marginalized groups and women.

 Sharmila Kumari works for Desi Power

Sharmila Kumari, a disabled resident of  Baharbari, is one of 100 villagers who found work with DESI Power.

“Thanks to the power plant, we can now irrigate most of the fields,” said farmer Bipin Kumar Thakur. “The six pumps installed allow us to grow full crops. The irrigation pumps improved the quality of rice and wheat and revenue has increased about Rs1 per kilogram.”

Food quality has also improved, said Bhalo Devi, a plant employee who is the first woman in the village to ever work.

“Now we can eat chapatti, when before all we ate was puffed rice,” said Devi, who is proud of her Rs1200-1500 monthly income, which is mostly spent on milk and vegetables for her four daughters. “Malnutrition has gone down since the plant was established and we could process wheat.”

About 50 people are employed at the power plant, while in-direct income is generated for another 200. DESI Power’s long term aim is to set up an electrification program for 100 villages in rural Bihar that would help the development of the industrial sector.

To address the demand side, the project works with local micro-entrepreneurs to help them set up income-generating activities (rice mills, pumping for irrigation, briquette production, etc) that would maximize the use of this decentralized energy source. The team is also negotiating with commercial banks to provide the micro-entrepreneurs access to financing. Thirty farmers in Baharbari have accessed credit through the State Bank of India already.

“DESI Power hopes that its program will convince policy makers to establish a decentralized power sector for rural electricity supply and motivate private sector investors to invest directly in power plants, energy services and micro-enterprises in villages,” said project team leader Hari Sharan, who developed the DESI Power concept after a decade of work in India’s power and energy sectors.

Sharan worked in engineering, research and development of fossil and renewable energy technologies and was also closely involved in policy-making. He gradually became more and more convinced that the planned rural electrification through centralized grids would not be able to supply even the minimum needs of India’s huge rural population, especially as very few new productive jobs were being created in villages to supplement the traditional agricultural activities, he said.

More than 30 percent of Indian population and perhaps as much as 80 percent of the rural population live without access to electricity and other modern sources of energy.

 Desi Power village meeting, Baharbari
Villagers meet with DESI Power management in Baharbari. The project has strong engagement with the local community.
While Bihar may take years to be connected to the central electric grid, the region’s abundant biomass resources make a decentralized, off-grid electricity production a viable alternative in helping raise the standard of living for India’s rural poor, Sharan said.

Aside from setting up the plant and employing villagers, DESI Power established a self-help group working with 100 people. One member, Sharmila Kumari, works at the wheat processing part of the plant. Disabled since birth, she did not have the opportunity to go to school, or even leave her house until the project’s installation.

“People always used to make fun of me, calling me names,” she said. “Now I have my own job and for the first time in my life people in the village call me by my name.”

The early success of the project has sparked interest from the neighboring communities. Through partnerships with the local business owners, DESI Power is now replicating the project in two neighboring sites: Gayiari and Vebhra. 

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