Renewable energy penetration in rural India has been largely led by social entrepreneurs, private entities and Ngo’s with international funding. With the advent of JNNSM and subsequent renewable energy policies, there has been an increased presence of government in renewable energy dissemination which is supposed to be a key growth driver for the sector. The gradual shift of subsidies and targeted programmes integrating renewable energy has certainly left a mark in the dissemination of clean energy technologies. It is high time various governments come up with schemes envisaging various targeted outcomes in which renewable energy can become an important component. The idea of promoting solar pumps for irrigation, solar based dryers for livelihood promotion etc. can form an important part of this sphere. This would help people in climbing the energy ladder by switching to reliable and clean energy technologies.
The chief minister’s solar powered greenhouse scheme in Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in this regard which integrates the scheme of housing for BPL families with solar home lighting facilities. The project which started in the year 2011 plans to build 60,000 houses each year till 2016. The state has allotted a budget R.s 1080 crores for this project every year. BPL families who own land in their name with a proper patta (documents) are identified and considered under various criteria to provide a house of 300 square feet area with a unit cost of R.s 1, 80000 with a split up of 1, 50000 for construction and 30,000 for solar lighting system. This is first of its kind government housing scheme in the country which has a dedicated solar lighting programme integrated into it.
The programme is carried out under the aegis of rural development and panchayath Raj department, Govt of Tamilnadu and the entire solar lighting component is managed by TEDA. It consists of 5 CFL lamps and the solar panel with batteries with a 5 year comprehensive maintenance contract by the developer. The houses are provided with grid backup and when the net metering policy of government comes into action they can sell excess power back to the grid which is believed to be an important step in promoting the scheme. The guidelines of the project have emphasized three important factors  which are crucial to the sustainability of the project.
- TEDA shall bring out Brochures/Hand outs and other training materials on the usage and maintenance of the SPV equipments. A Hand out on Dos and Don’ts should also be prepared by TEDA in the local language and distributed to the beneficiaries.
- Training Modules shall be prepared by TEDA to train the Panchayath Presidents, Panchayath Secretaries, select SHG Members and other local functionaries deemed fit, so that they can serve as effective interface between the beneficiaries and suppliers. the commissioning agencies shall be responsible to train the beneficiaries as well as 4 SHG members in each Panchayath to do regular maintenance
- A call centre would be opened to deal with the queries and complaints of the beneficiaries.
These suggestions prove to be an important aspect which can ensure the smooth functioning of the project. Many a time lack of emphasis on such a provision in renewable energy projects has led to the complete failure of the project. The provisions for the increased presence of panchayath and SHG’s are expected to ensure that the decentralized approach is followed in the case of proper maintenance of the project. This in turn would increase the scope of availability of ‘green jobs’ by engaging the local population with in the loop of maintenance and follow-up. In our country panchayath officials and ward members do play an important role when it comes to the dissemination of the benefits of various schemes to the end users. The provisions for hand-outs and call centre facilities would enable people to tackle the issue of information asymmetry and is expected to equip themselves with quicker service at their doorsteps.
As a part of the site visit, 2 households were interviewed in Ayyanadaipu panchayath who were the beneficiaries of the scheme. With decent infrastructure and perfectly running solar lights the beneficiaries were quite satisfied with the project with almost nearing a year after completion. “The addition of solar component is very useful for us when it comes to household lighting. From 6 – 10 pm we are getting bright light and this helps us to save money in the electricity bill”.Ganeshan, one of the beneficiaries was appreciating the project. Even though the project is fully funded by the state government, the beneficiaries are required to provide their labour towards the civil works for the construction and the amount is released in instalment in accordance with the completion of each phase. This ensures that the money is not diverted and the ‘sweat equity’ provided by the beneficiary is useful in ensuring the sustainability of the project. The fact that there was a follow up maintenance check by a technician to these areas is also a welcome step in this regard. In short it is the benefits of an energy source of which ease of use is that which ultimately drives the demand as these are the factors people desire over energy access itself (DFID 2012).
This is a very early stage evaluation of the project. There is also a need to check whether the facilities like call centre are working efficiently in a long run as per the scheme document. But as of now the entire project appears to be a torch bearer in terms of the integration of renewable energy into various government projects. The integration of this sort has twin fold benefits of addressing poverty and ensuring long term energy security. Moreover successful government projects are the need of the hour in promoting the visibility of clean energy technologies for our long awaited energy transition and low carbon growth. Even though there have been delays in completion of projects as per schedule and lags in providing solar connections, the overall picture of the scheme looks promising and the beneficiaries seems to be satisfied with the experience so far. This points us to the importance of having more such innovative schemes from the government which has a mix of components rather than interventions for achieving mere numbers in megawatts. It is advisable to have schemes for solar pumps for irrigation, PHC’s in tribal areas run on solar, schemes for lighting schools etc. Just like policy makers are obsessed with results and numbers, each and every field visit reminds that people do care about visible benefits despite which renewable energy or energy access doesn’t make any sense