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Chhattisgarh leads as India uses solar to take power to villages

New villages electrified in India, year-wise

The central Indian state of Chhattisgarh has come out as a leader in India’s quest to take electricity to remote villages where grid-based power cannot be supplied due to economical reasons.

The state accounts for 550 of the 852 ‘decentralized distributed generation’ schemes set up with central assistance so far, according to data sourced from ministry of new and renewable energy, government of India (see below).

The current numbers show that besides Chhattisgarh, the only other state to use solar photovoltaic panels to provide electricity in remote villages was Andhra Pradesh. 

Andhra Pradesh has 215 such projects operational as of January end.

Other states have been allocated funds, but are yet to operationalize their projects under the scheme.

Based on the funds allocated, the average cost of a single project in Chhattisgarh is less than Rs 50 lakhs, while it was less than Rs 35 lakhs in Andhra Pradesh.

The distributed generation scheme is key to the government’s aim of achieving universal electricity access in India by May 2018.

MODI STEPS ON THE GAS

The current central government, headed by Narendra Modi, has been pushing hard to achieve unversal electricity access in India, with a large degree of success.

For example, in the financial year 2013-14 — which marked the last year under the previous government headed by Manmohan Singh, only 1,197 new villages were provided with electricity. As of March 2014 — two months before the government changed — there were nearly 20,000 villages without power India. India is estimated to have a total of 600,000 villages.

In 2014-15, which was the year when the new government came to power, another 1,405 villages were electrified, leaving 18,452 villages to be electrified as of Apr 1, 2015. The real change took place in the next year.

While it would have taken another 10-12 years to electrify these villages at the going rate, the government sought to accelerate the program — partly by using distributed generation techniques such as solar, and partly by aggressive expansion of the main grid.

As a result, in the year April 2015 to March 2016, a total of 7,108 villages were electrified — five-six times the regular rate.

In the current financial year, which started in April 2016, another 4,925 villages were electrified in the first ten months. As a result, the number of villages without electricity fell from 18,452 at the end of March 2015 to 6,419 22 months later.

In fact, the pace of electrification has been higher than targeted. In the year-ended March 2016, for example, the target was to electrify 5,686 villages, but the achievement was 7,108.

The relatively smooth roll-out so far seems to have emboldened the government to advance its target for universal electrification from May 2019 to May 2018 recently.

In addition, government also runs a separate program, called ‘Power for All’ that aims to ensure 24×7 power availability throughout the country by 2022. At present, many rural areas face power shut-downs of several hours a day due to lack of generation and transmission capacity.

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