Empowering the poor: An OASYS story from Dhenkanal District, Odisha, India
In the process of finding solutions for sustainable rural electrification, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and a group of research partners, led by De Montfort University, the UK, implemented the ‘Off-grid Access Systems for South Asia’ (OASYS South Asia) project. Through this project, a systematic analysis was conducted to develop an off-grid delivery model framework and implement that framework through demonstration projects in un-electrified villages across different regions in India. These demonstration projects included mini-grids, micro-grids, and pico-grids, providing either Alternate Current (AC) or Direct Current (DC) power to households and shops/micro-enterprises, in the selected project areas.
One of such demonstration project is employed in the five un-electrified villages lying within the Kandhara Reserve Forest of Dhenkanal District in Odisha, India. These villages fall under the Hindol Block (Latitude 20° 33’ N; Longitude 85° 17’ E) with a total population of 555 inhabitants. All these villages were provided with decentralized solar micro-grids; as of now, three larger villages (Rajanga village, Kanaka village and Chadoi village) are receiving power from AC micro-grids and the other two smaller villages (Rajanga hamlet and Baguli village) are getting electricity supply from DC micro-grids.
The main objective of the project in Dhenkanal District, Odisha was to demonstrate the off-grid delivery model through community participation and find appropriate local solution, which is techno-economically viable, institutionally feasible, socio-politically acceptable, and environmentally sound for providing sustainable electricity supply to off-grid areas.
The target group consisted of a tribal community inhabiting the Kandhara reserve forest. This tribal village cluster is about 8 km away from the nearest large village, which is the headquarters of the local village level governing body, known as the Panchayat. This physical isolation from the Panchayat, as well as the villages’ location within the forest, resulted in a reduced focus on development initiatives in this cluster of villages . As per the forest regulations in India, laying electricity transmission lines through the reserve forest is not permitted (MoEF, 2011), and thus, these villages were not electrified under the national rural electrification programme. However, the regulations allow electricity grid to be drawn in the inhabited areas within the designated village .
Owing to the distance between the different villages in the cluster, for each of the five sites, their own power plant was designed. The three larger villages namely, Rajanga, Kanaka, and Chadoi have received AC micro-grid (6, 5, and 2.5 kWp, respectively) and connected 34, 39, and 32 households as well as public buildings, respectively. The other two sites, Baguli village and Rajanga hamlet, were provided with DC micro-grids (400 Wp) with 14 and 13 connections, respectively. Each household across all the five villages has been provided with same electricity supply configuration and illumination of two 3W Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) and a mobile charging point to ensure equity in service delivery. In addition to household lighting, there has been a provision for the following community services:
- Street lights were installed in all villages to ensure safety at night as the villages fall in the elephant corridor. Impact survey of the villages indicates that the street lights are also helping a great deal in easing mobility around the villages. Incidents of insect and snakebites after dark have also reduced and the community shared the sense of safety that they associate with the project.
- Television, video player, lighting, and fans were provided at the community centres of Rajanga and Kanaka villages. Villagers used these facilities for recreational as well as educational purposes. Women have also started using these centres for general household discussions as well as to discuss lucrative opportunities to take up in future. The space is at times used for meetings, trainings, and workshops.
- For the purpose of livelihood augmentation, community centre at Rajanga village has also been provided with appliances like:
- Multipurpose grinder
- Leaf plate pressing machine
- Weighing scale
- Polythene sealing machine
- Water pump sets
These appliances enable the villagers to engage in productive activities such as grinding spices, packaging, and saal leaf plate making. This also encourages the village groups to carry out processing of their agro-based products and selling them in the market to earn higher revenues by avoiding the role of middle-men.
- Water purifiers, one each at Rajanga, Kanaka, and Baguli villages, have been provided for portable drinking water and to address the water-borne health related issues.
A household level study was carried out in the project villages by an independent researcher engaged by TERI to assess the impacts of the intervention . Some of the direct major impacts of this initiative, as observed during the study, are as follows:
- Reduction in household kerosene consumption from 7.15 litres prior to the intervention of micro-grids to 3.52 litres, thereby reducing the monthly expenditure on kerosene per household from ₹250 to ₹185. Hundred percent of households have said that they are now saving money around ₹53 per month, which was earlier spent on the kerosene fuel.
- Women who are involved in income-generating activities such as mat-making have reported increase in income in the range of ₹500 to ₹1000 per month. These women were not working during the night earlier, and have started continuing their income-generating activities even after it gets dark because of the solar light in their homes.
- In terms of health issues faced due to kerosene light usage, around 50% households have consulted a doctor anywhere between 2 to 10 times in a year, amounting to expenditure of ₹50 to even more than ₹100 per visit. After installation of the solar light, those who used to face health issues and visit the doctor are able to save about 80–85% of money.
- Now mid-wives have started to facilitate easy and safe delivery of babies at homes under the light, an important activity which was earlier done in the dim kerosene light.
- All households reported that children did not study at all at home under the light of kerosene lamps/candles. Whereas, now around 48% children study at home under the solar light, studying between 1–4 hours every day post sunset.
- Another important impact observed was in terms of easy access to mobile charging facility at home. Earlier, villagers had to travel to distant places where they were charged a fee for charging their mobile phones. But, the installation of micro-grids helped them save not only money, but also time and effort.
- Cluster-based approach for decentralization:In this project, clustering has been seen in terms of institutional clustering wherein the Village Energy Committee (VEC), a single institutional entity, was established. It had representatives from all the villages. They used to operate and manage multiple power plants installed in each village. Instead of having a single large power plant with distribution lines running to all five villages, it was decided to have five distribution power plants . Though operational benefits favoured having a single large power plant, the cost of distribution line was low with multiple power plants. Therefore, this single institutional entity, i.e., the VEC, was formed for the ease of management of the system.
- Choosing both AC and DC systems:During the baseline survey, it was found that the number of households in the Rajanga Hamlet and Chadoi was limited to 14 and these two sites are not very close to the other larger sites where AC power plants were planned. Hence, a DC micro-grid was designed to cater to lighting and mobile phone charging demands at these sites instead of extending the AC grid from the larger sites to these smaller sites, which would have been an expensive proposition. In other larger sites at Rajanga, Kanaka, and Baguli, the AC system was designed as the number of households was larger with a scope of commercial and agricultural applications. However, all users were provided with same number of light points and similar light quality (lumen output) for households served by AC and DC power plants, so as to avoid any issues of conflict in future since the rural users have the tendency to compare the quality of service being received by them with one another. Hence, it was ensured that the choice of system being designed does not bring the sense of inequality.
- Provision for demand growth: The design value per household is taken as 30W whereas the actual requirement is around 10W (3W per light and 3–4W per mobile charging point). This has been done to address future increase in demand (some household may install fans), which may result from enhanced income due to the livelihood generation activities being promoted in the sites. Also, in case the bulbs get damaged, there is no guarantee that the users would replace them with similar LED bulbs, owing to its cost and availability constraints and thus they may choose to install 7W Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) which would be the next good alternative available for them in the area. In addition, some new productive or agricultural load may also get connected in future or the number of households in the village may increase. Therefore, some spare capacity has been built into the design to ensure that there is no overloading of the system in future.
- Livelihood appliances to augment income opportunities: The project took measure to enhance the paying capacities for electricity in future by creating new business opportunities for the villagers. Numerous livelihood opportunities are now enabled which use applications such as grinders for spices, sealing machine for packaging, saal leaf plate pressing machine, better irrigation facilities, functioning water purifiers, and installation of fans and street lamps in community areas/institutions such as clinics and schools.
- Distribution network and water pumping facility:While the distribution network in Baguli, Rajanga hamlet, and Chadoi villages caters to only household and productive loads (if present), Rajanga and Kanaka villages have also provided connection facility for water pumping, located at some distance from the households. The pump has been connected to the main power plant rather than through a standalone system. This has been done to optimally utilize the solar power plant capacity such that the pumps can run during the day on solar power for irrigation facility (around 3 months); whereas, for the rest of the year, the livelihood appliances can be run using the same solar capacity.
The villages are remote and located inside a forest, thus no private developers were willing to take investment risk in such an area that is economically poor, scattered in terms of population, and has unpredictable load growth. In this project, therefore, a subsidy-driven model was used in collaboration with different funding agencies and contribution made by the community to demonstrate a successful union of vision and finances as well as ensuring a sense of belongingness for each stakeholder. The project cost was mainly borne by the OASYS South Asia project and partially supported by the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), a Government of India enterprise that has sanctioned financial assistance under its sustainable development initiative. The community also contributed in kind by way of providing land for the community hall-cum-power plant, labour, and a token connection cost, which was vital for the project outcome.
TERI has acted as a main implementing agency for the project, overseeing and coordinating all the activities of other agencies involved. Using the one-time connection charge (INR 500 per household), a maintenance fund was created to cover rectifications beyond warranty period, especially those caused by natural factors or force majeure and other maintenance needs as per the project requirements. The VEC is also empowered to make decisions regarding the fund utilization for the long-term sustainability of the project.
The Indian Electricity Act of 2003 allows local agencies to set up power plants and distribute electricity in rural areas without taking license from the electricity regulator. This has helped to set up the plant without involving in licensing or paper work. Further, collaboration with state department of horticulture has been established so that the department can assist in setting up micro-irrigation facility utilizing electricity services that have been created in the village, which can further help in increasing the crop yield and thereby local income.
In addition to this, a local partner NGO—Institute for Research and Action on Development Alternatives (IRADA)—is also attempting to link up with local existing schemes of the government for construction of check dam, hand pump, bore well, etc. They also intend to have facilities such as adult education at the community centre and are also in process of mobilizing corporate houses for help to provide computer, television, and other durable assets to open the avenues for vocation as well as recreation.
Building local capacity and skills is crucial for the sustainability of any project. The key stakeholders involved in this regard for the project are:
- Village Energy Committee (VEC) members
- Village operator(s)
- Self-Help Groups (SHGs)
- Local partner NGO
Each of these stakeholders was given detailed training to run the model on sustained basis. Other capacity building programmes were also conducted  to spread awareness on the use of energy and agricultural practices and few other general workshops and exposure visits such as:
- Training of operators: Each power plant is serviced by a village operator who was selected from the community by the VEC and is paid a monthly honorarium. These operators were trained on the Operation and Minor maintenance (O&M) of the grids and the livelihood appliances. The training was conducted by both TERI engineers and technicians from the technology supplier in each village to convey specific information about the power plants. They were trained on steps of operation, basic trouble shooting, and replacement of spare parts. In addition to the training, a poster listing out Dos and Don’ts for the plants in the local language has also been displayed at each site so that the operators can revisit the posters in case they forget any steps about running of the plants.
- Training of Self-Help Groups (SHGs): Four SHGs with membership from all five villages were identified as potential user and operating groups for the livelihood generating equipment. Capacity building sessions were organized with these SHGs to create awareness on energy issues and generate interest in the proposed livelihood generating opportunities. They were also provided with preliminary training on the use and maintenance of the livelihood generating appliances.
- Refresher technical orientation programme for VEC members: The technology supplier also organized a two-day refresher technical orientation programme for the operators and VEC members. The objective of the training was to understand from the local stakeholders the type of faults that have occurred since the project was commissioned and how they can address these in case the faults reoccur. They were also given hands-on training on the system and on techniques of rectification in case of defaults.
- Community training programme: In an effort to keep the communities involved in the project and spread awareness on energy use, a series of training and capacity building programmes were conducted during the initial pre-construction phase of the project. Such trainings and programmes covered topics related to training on livelihood activities, O&M of the machines, marketing of local produce, inputs on finance to enable banking, and savings for future O&M. The training was held on the given topics in order to cater to the interest of the villagers and encourage them to link the energy services which were planned to be provided by the plant for livelihood purposes.
- Exposure visit for partner NGO and VEC members: An exposure visit was also organized during the pre-installation phase to Solar Multi Utility (SMU), earlier implemented by TERI in a nearby site, for all VEC members and the partner NGO. During this visit, VEC members were provided with technical and institutional understanding of the SMU, including inputs on Dos and Don’ts and routine maintenance. They were also told about the benefits of solar energy for enhancing livelihood activities through live examples of such activities in progress at the SMU site.
Since the project inception, community has been actively involved with the installation process; first, in the manner of land donated by a community elder where the plant could set up and then, the community helped with the construction of plant infrastructure. Further, for ease of the local management, Gram Sabha (village meeting) passed a resolution to form the VEC, for operating and maintaining the five solar power plants. The VEC members were chosen during the Gram Sabha meeting with consent from other villagers, with at least one member from each of the project villages. The VEC has been made responsible for not only the O&M, but also for the collective management and decision-making which benefit all the villages equally. The VEC holds regular monthly meetings to discuss the operational or any issues related to the power plant and attempt to resolve them with guidance from the partner NGO.
The VEC also ensures tariff collection in each village. It also manages the community centre provided in some of the villages for supporting economic activities and for community entertainment through its village operator . As the Project Implementing Agency (PIA), TERI was not local to the site, hence there was a need of a partner organization to steer the project activities in the field by providing grassroots support. This role is efficiently fulfilled by the IRADA, which has a strong local presence in the project area. It has spearheaded all local activities under TERI’s guidance along with rapport building with the local communities.
Some of the other additional benefits arising out of the direct impact of the project as observed in the project are as follows:
- Looking at the livelihood appliances installed at the community centre of Rajanga, IRADA also put up six sewing machines in the community centre at Kanaka in order to promote livelihood opportunities.
- Short-term employment opportunities were created for the community to involve the activity of civil construction for setting up the power plant infrastructure, which helped villagers in earning incremental income during the construction phase.
- Due to the commissioning of this project, the region has become lively. Previously, these villages did not even come under the arena of focus for development by the Panchayat, which is no longer the scenario. In fact, the condition of roads connecting these villages to other nearby areas has improved now.
- Owing to the connectivity development in the area, people have started coming from other towns and the capital city to buy the organic vegetables grown in these areas, thus further enhancing villagers’ income earning opportunities.
- The facility of mobile phone charging has come as a major relief in times of an emergency, when the villagers could not establish communication with the urban centres. Some of them even quoted this facility to be beneficial in terms of listening music or talking on the phone.
- All the households attributed solar lights to the ease in carrying out chores and providing women with more free time. Women used this free time for doing household chores and other creative activities, such as stitching and having leisure time with family.
- In Baguli village, the school premises in the evening after school hours are also being used for cultural events such as keertan (religious singing). Previously, the keertan was done in the light of kerosene, but after the installation of light in the school and under the nearby street light, it is now done with more fervor.
The consumer households paid a one-time connection fee of ₹500 per household and a recurring fee of ₹50 per month, which is uniform across all five sites. This tariff was set up after a detailed discussion in the Gram Sabha, keeping in mind the costs that will be incurred on plant operation and maintenance and the payment of the staff involved. The tariff has been kept well within the paying capacity of the villagers. The amount is collected by the village operator who maintains the record and submits it to the VEC and the amount thus collected is used for the maintenance of the system and to further develop it.
During the monitoring exercise, the project did report few teething concerns. While some issues required the intervention by TERI (PIA), the other involved local usage that could be better resolved by the VEC or the partner NGO. The teething concerns were as follows:
- Tampering of household connections and installation of additional electrical sockets to operate a higher number, and load, of appliances in some of the households. The VEC and IRADA identified such households through individual checks, discussed the misuse and ways of resolving the issue at their meeting. They were successful in discouraging the households from misusing the system and communicated them that it would result in disconnection and complete closure of the power plants.
- Inverter and other equipment got damaged in the Kanaka village due to the lighting strike. As the local community was recently introduced to electricity, they were not able to resolve the issue and hence the partner NGO approached the PIA. The technical experts of TERI rectified the problem and guided the operators to efficiently safeguard the system in future.
- There has been frequent spoilage of LED bulbs over the first two months of operations which resulted in the suspension of monthly payments from the affected households. Assuming that the fault lay with the bulbs, VEC made an order for CFL bulbs (11W) from the local market, as 3W LED were not available in the local market, but the problem persisted even after this change. Therefore, the problem was communicated to the PIA, as at this early stage of the project, the deeper technical investigation could only be handled by the PIA. An electrical engineer was thus hired and it was found out that the fault lay in the internal wiring in some households, which during the rains caused short circuits resulting in the damage of bulbs. The problem was immediately rectified and now villagers have started using LED bulbs again.
The kinds of teething concerns mentioned above depict how both actors can effectively solve a problem, if there is a good communication between them. Also, a clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities, and the extent to which the PIA (which in most of the cases is an external agency) would be involved in post-installation project activities, greatly impacts the functioning of the project. In the funded projects, it has been mostly observed that either the VEC has high expectations from the PIA, when it comes to resolving both minor and major problems, or the PIA pulls back at an early project handover stage, placing an unreasonably heavy burden on the VEC. Therefore, the division of responsibilities as well as pre-planned exit strategy by the PIA ensures the sustainability of the project operation.
The local partner NGO, i.e., IRADA, has been actively involved with the project planning and execution. From the very beginning, IRADA has helped in carrying out meetings and accompanying TERI professionals to the sites. They assisted in scoping survey and helped in carrying out the baseline studies in the early stages of the project, as they were acquainted with the local communities.
IRADA acts at a meso-level between TERI and project beneficiaries. In addition, it plays a role of community mobilizer. The partnership with IRADA not only enabled TERI in reaching out to these remote villages in the forest areas, but also made it possible for TERI to continue its handhold over the community. IRADA was also involved during the formation of the VEC and has been playing an important role of facilitator during monthly VEC meetings and sending detailed minutes of meetings to TERI. TERI sends its responses to the minutes of the meetings to the VEC via IRADA. In fact, they are also exploring various ways to help villagers in marketing of local produce so that they could get a remunerative price for their produce and intend to have facilities for adult education at the community centres.
The installation of all the power plants was completed in March 2014. It was followed by regular monitoring and handholding of IRADA and the VEC, as they resolved different degrees of operational problems or teething concerns associated with a new project. While in some cases, TERI’s intervention was required as the issues were of a complex technical nature; it was observed that even during early days, issues arising from local use patterns were better addressed by the VEC or IRADA.
A detailed evaluation was done by an independent researcher, the details of which have already been mentioned above.
The impact study undertaken by TERI for this project indicates that the users have been triggered on the path of energy aspirations as the user households are demanding more light points. They are even demanding energy for irrigating their farms now. This marks the success of the project. This project has demonstrated that how community has sustainably managed and run a project with handholding support by a local champion and overall technical support by the PIA. There are large number of un-electrified villages and hamlets in South-Asia, accounting for around 35% of the world's population without access to electricity , especially in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. Hence, similar models can be replicated across these South-Asian countries in energy impoverished communities, thereby contributing to improvement in quality of life of rural people.
Associate Director, TERI
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Name:Empowering the poor: An OASYS story from Dhenkanal District, Odisha, India
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Associate Director, TERI
- Energy supply
- Productive uses
Project status:Completed project
Project start:1 December 2012
End date:31 March 2015