Power crisis spurs renewables market  

Until a year ago, T N Pandit, a pathologist in Bihar’s Saran district would juggle four different power supplies to keep his lab operational. The sources included inverter, generator, solar cell and state power grid. Voltage fluctuation had caused faults in his gadgets till he decided to install one more switch on his already overcrowded switchboard. “It supplies power from a biogas-fired power plant and offers steady supply for eight hours a day,” said Pandit from Raipura village.

Set up in 2006 by Vivek Gupta, a fresh management graduate, the biogas plant in Garkha village is a lifeline for many like Pandit in the power-starved district.

Now, in its first year of operation, the plant, called Saran Renewable Energy, generates 120kW and meets the demand of Garkha and Raipura villages.

The biomass is available easily—corncobs and twigs of sesbania, a leafy plant called dhencha in Bihar. “About 2,000 hectares (ha) of low-lying farmland in Saran remains waterlogged throughout the year, making them unsuitable for most crops. So when we gave farmers free seeds to grow dhencha and assured them to buy back at Rs 2 per kg, they accepted,” Gupta said. The dhencha grows in six-eight months and farmers can earn up to Rs 5,000 on a fourth of an acre of fallow land a year. Dhencha is fast gaining community support. Gupta plans to expand the existing plant’s capacity to 2MW soon and establish another plant in nearby Sitalpur village. He is also in talks with Bihar Energy Regulatory Commission to supply power directly to the grid. “Nothing has been finalised yet as the commission wants to purchase renewable energy at Rs 3.30 a unit whereas in other states the price is in the band of Rs 4-4.50,” said Gupta.

The current production cost of Saran Renewable is Rs 7-8 a unit. People are ready to pay the price because power from a genset costs Rs 15-18 per unit. Gupta promised he would bring down the cost further. Meanwhile, Airtel telecom has asked Gupta to supply power to its 300 mobile towers in the district.

Alok Gupta
Down To Earth Feature Service

Emission-free osmotic power
EMISSION REDUCTION: Scenes like these may disappear if osmotic power, a new emission-free source of energy is used.The world’s first test plant to harness osmotic power, a new emission-free source of energy, opened recently in Norway. Nestled amid pine-covered hills on the banks of the Oslo fjord, 60km south of the Norwegian capital, the facility will exploit the energy produced when fresh water meets seawater. Statkraft, the Norwegian energy firm behind the test plant, says osmotic power could produce up to 1,600–1,700 terawatt hours worldwide – the equivalent of half of the energy generated in the EU today.
Statkraft says osmotic power would be especially suited for generating electricity for large cities. “Many are situated at the point where large rivers flow into the sea,” says Sverre Gotaas, senior vice-president for innovation and growth at Statkraft. “So you would not need to transport the electricity over long distances.”

Another advantage, argues Gotaas, is that a commercial plant would be modest in size, but still produce a significant amount of energy. “A facility the size of a football field could generate 25 megawatts – enough to supply 30,000 households,” he says.

Gwladys Fouché
The Guardian

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