Solar Power is a life saver in Chhattisgarh – Survey

The solar energy revolution may be all about saving the environment, but for the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, it’s impact is more immediate, and life-saving.

According to a first-of-its-kind study conducted on primary health centers in the state, PHCs with solar backup admitted 50% more patients and conducted almost twice the number of child deliveries in a month compared to centers without a solar system.

Despite being a power surplus state, one-third of the PHCs in Chhattisgarh are either un-electrified or without regular power supply.

About 90% of PHCs reported power cuts during peak operating hours. One-third of the PHCs experienced power cuts in the evening. More than 21% of the PHCs reported damage of medical equipment due to voltage fluctuations.

The study was conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) with funding from Oxfam India, and involved 147 PHCs, including 83 having solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, across 15 districts in Chhattisgarh.

Between 2012-2016, the Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) installed 2 kWp off-grid solar PV rooftop systems across 570 PHCs in the state.

In Chhattisgarh, 90% of the solar powered PHCs reported cost savings from using solar PV systems over diesel generators. Diesel power costs INR 24-26 per kWh while solar plus battery costs around INR 12-14 per kWh.

CEEW analysis found that a solar PV system provides 3-4 hours of backup electricity for a PHC.

Also, peak generation from solar PV systems coincides with peak load times for PHCs, 12pm – 4pm, making solar not simply an effective backup generation system but also a potential primary mode of power supply.

Higher comfort due to better lighting and running fans in the solar PHCs increased patients’ willingness to get admitted, it found.

The ability of solar powered PHCs to operate cold chain, storing vaccines and drugs, and newborn care equipment also improved significantly in Chhattisgarh.

Almost one-fourth of power-deficit PHCs in the state currently rely exclusively on solar as a backup to run cold chain equipment.

“Ensuring continuous electricity supply to cold chains at PHCs is critical, especially in rural Chhattisgarh, where the infant mortality rate (43) is higher than the average for rural India (41),” CEEW said.

Meanwhile, India is far behind on its targeted additions of rooftop solar capacity.

“Providing solar systems) to all PHCs across India could contribute to about 160 MW of the rooftop target. If solar were to be extended to cover Sub-Centres (1 kW systems) and Community Health Centres (8 kW systems), the total potential would be about 415 MW,” said the agency.

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW, said, “Scaling solar systems across PHCs is in India’s interest as it meets the targets of the National Solar Mission as well as the National Health Mission.”

Chhattisgarh, famous for its forests and hills, is one of the leaders in India in making use of solar PV technology to ensure the delivery of power even in remote areas.

“Taking a cue from CREDA, other states must also focus on creating robust operations and maintenance services for solar powered PHCs,” Ghosh added.

According to the Rural Health Statistics 2016, India has about 25,000 PHCs. Of the functional PHCs in India, 4.6% are unelectrified, affecting over 38 million rural households depending on these healthcare facilities.

Further, the District Level Household and Facility Survey – 4 (DLHS-4) data indicate that one out of every two PHCs in the country suffers from unreliable power supply or has no electricity access at all. Unreliable and poor-quality electricity supply limits diagnostic and treatment services, reduces hours of operation to daytime, and forces patients to travel a longer distance in search of better healthcare.