The government has decided to harness the sun’s power to light up gram panchayats in villages, in what will be a big push for solar energy in rural Karnataka.
Authorities are also exploring solar power options for street lights in villages.
Switching to solar power will lead to precious savings running into tens of crores that gram panchayats can utilise on developmental works, authorities say. Every gram panchayat spends an estimated Rs 10-20 lakh on electricity bills annually.
"We want to promote rooftop solar power for gram panchayats," RDPR principal secretary L K Atheeq said. Out of 6,024 gram panchayats in Karnataka, some 5,500 have their own buildings. "In those panchayats, solar panels of 2.5-3 kW capacity can be installed on the rooftop. This can be used for office lights, fans, computers and so on," Atheeq said.
The decision to go solar for gram panchayats was taken at a meeting chaired by RDPR Minister K S Eshwarappa, where Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd (KREDL), Mysore Sales International Ltd (MSIL) and Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation Ltd (Keonics) presented different solar options for gram panchayats.
"It will cost just about Rs 2-3 lakh per gram panchayat to install rooftop solar panels. As a result, they won’t have to pay for electricity as enough power will be available to meet day-to-day electricity needs," Atheeq explained.
The solar panels come with a shelf life of 25 years, whereas the batteries last 6-7 years.
As far as street lights are concerned, Atheeq said officials are working out the economics involved. "One option is to go for a composite unit that comes with a solar panel, LED light and a battery that will be placed on top of a pole. It doesn’t require maintenance. Also, the battery uses direct current (DC), which means that even if it is stolen, it can’t be used for alternative current (AC) purpose," he pointed out.
The rural solar initiative adds to Karnataka’s lead position, as the state has left others behind in the adoption of solar power, which contributes 22% to the total installed capacity of 29,143.62 MW.
"The only thing is," Atheeq said, "the government will not provide any financial assistance to gram panchayats. Every gram panchayat will have to invest from its own resources or with the 14th Finance Commission grants."