Husk Power Energizes Bihar

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Bihar is undoubtedly on the national media spotlight these days. While the entire government machinery and political parties are focusing their energy towards the state’s assembly elections, the socio-economic conditions remains the same in the state. Development is still not top issue in this election, while caste combination is.

Politicians often complain that the deadly combination of poverty, illiteracy and people’s apathy prevents development in Bihar. There is no doubt the northern Indian state has the worst infrastructure in terms of roads, electricity, water and telecommunications. The darkness that envelopes every night across the state’s rural areas starkly symbolizes “Bihar mein andhakar”. Fortunately a small company named ‘Husk Power Systems’ is showing the way by building a localized micro-grid energy system, which is powered by a cheap local resource.

Rural Power Supply – Acute problem

Uninterrupted electric power supply is such a rarity in India that has become an oxymoron! The problem is acute in rural areas where power is only given in shifts, particularly in off-peak hours. So electric power is never there when it is needed and the supply quality is also deficient. Villagers rely on kerosene lanterns for lighting and diesel generators for irrigation and commercial power. Both are expensive and destructive to health and the environment.

Not only this system burdens rural households who cannot afford to buy these fuels from the market, but also adds to the import burden of our country. Alternative energy options like solar PV and wind are still too costly for rural poor, though their prices have come down drastically. In contrast, local energy resources such as biomass and biodiesel are abundantly available and remain underutilized.

Innovative Local Solution Husk Power Systems

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Husk Power Systems has innovatively utilized this resource to provide a reliable and affordable option for rural electrification. As the company name suggests, Husk Power uses rice husk – a waste product in rice milling – to power a 40 kilowatt power plant, which provides electricity for 500 village households for around six to eight hours every day.

India is one of the world’s leading rice producing countries, so there is abundant availability of rice husk. Apart from rice husk, the region also produces a significant amount of straw, another by-product of rice production. While straw is well utilized as fodder for cattle during the dry months, rice husk is marginally used as fuel for stoves and mostly it is wasted.

While the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy in India had been promoting biomass gasification projects for many decades, most of these were pilot projects run by NGOs in remote areas. However, the success of Husk Power Systems as a private, off-grid electricity producer and supplier has renewed the commercial interest in the conversion of this waste material into electricity.

Gyanesh Pandey and Manoj Sinha chose to establish Husk Power Systems in 2008 in the most power-starved state in the country. They realized that the low cost electric supply and high quality service are key factors for a viable, small-scale electricity generation option. They looked into various alternative electricity generation options such as wind turbines, solar photovoltaic, biodiesel, and bio-gas, but selected rice husk, an abundant local resource in the rice-growing region.

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Husk Power Systems uses biomass gasification technology, which is a partial oxidation process that burns a solid fuel mixed with oxygen in a controlled system to produce producer gas. However, husk does not burn easily due to its high silica content that causes wears out the biomass gasifiers. Most biomass gasifiers in India utilize dual fuels where diesel is used as a support fuel, but this increases the cost of electricity generation. For a mono-fuel application, a customized, proprietary design of gasification technology was required that had to be built and maintained locally without much technical expertise.

Husk Power Systems locally fabricated a mono-fuel biomass gasifier and a cheap compressed natural gas  engine was procured to start the initiative in 2007. The decision to locally fabricate the equipment was taken rather than buying from a manufacturer, which turned out to be a smart move that reduced the total capital cost of the plant.

The company today installs and operates mini biomass power plants (15-250 kW) and solar micro-grids (20 KW) in remote rural electricity deficient villages. Currently, Husk Power Systems has installed around 85 plants across 300 villages in Bihar, serving an estimated coverage of 20,000 households and 200,000 individuals. At INR2.2 per watt, the company’s rates are much cheaper than the subsidized power provided by the government electricity boards!

However, there is one disadvantage to this otherwise great boon for rural masses. Husk Power is choosing biomass as a fuel because of its availability in farming communities. While biomass power plants are considered “green” because of their use of farm wastes instead of fossil fuels, they are still combusting the fuel much like how a standard power plant burns coal or gas. That means biomass power stations still emit emissions that aren’t so good for the environment and human health.

Image source –
http://www.huskpowersystems.com
http://acumen.org
http://www.cseindia.org

Factfile –
http://www.sciencedirect.com
https://gigaom.com

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Levine Lawrence
Rooftop organic farmer, eager eco enthusiast, sustainable economist wandering on a middle path to find world peace amidst global chaos!

4 COMMENTS

  1. This notion, “Bihar mein andhakar” and then subsequently the story on Husk Power on how it provides energy access to those without any energy access brings us to a conclusion, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” Neither has Bihar remained major rice producing nation (All- India 5th highest production) nor a revenue-rich state that has enough capability to put some of its reserves for research and development. Yet, Husk Power at Bihar setup the precedence for West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the latter being more advanced states. The major challenge at boosting its effective rollout remains the dearth of trained laborers and arrival of free power from the govt.

    The advent of several rural electrification programs such as Rajiv Gandhi Vidyutikaran Yojana (now revamped into Deen Dayal Upadhyaya gram jyoti yojana) tends to provide free electricity upto certain units. This discourages entrepreneurs from investing in the renewable energy segment. The minimum cost of electricity per unit of renewables roughly averages Rs 6-8 per unit, however, electricity from state grid (although marked by inefficiencies) averages Rs3-4 per unit. Hence, this trade-off often hurts the viability of grid connections. A key understanding could be that once reliable grids arrive, electricity from renewables could be integrated into it, in turn enhancing ‘welfare’.”

    • Dear Abhinav,
      Thank you very much for your insightful comments. i suppose you are exposed to the ground situation in Bihar. i will request people from Husk Power to respond to your thoughts on free power from state grid.
      regards
      Levine

  2. Thanks for the comments and inputs. Bihar is indeed a power poor state and it needs a lot of work to bring power to rural areas. We have launched a Hybrid Model wherein we synchronized Solar PV and Biomass System output that now generates 24/7 power for residential and commercial customers. While grid power is highly subsidized in rural areas, Indian govt has shown willingness to work with mini-grid companies like Husk Power Systems. We intend to focus our efforts in Bihar, UP and neighboring states as these states need the most.
    Regards,
    manoj

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