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Solar energy to bring jobs and prosperity back to parched villages

Amit Jain's picture
Villagers in Pavagada Taluk, Karnataka, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Bala who was born in a small village in Pavagada Taluk, Karnataka, where, agriculture was the main source of income—much like in many other villages in India. But as he grew up, he saw most of his friends choosing to move to cities, because scant rainfall had made it impossible to pursue agriculture and make enough money to make ends meet at home. Village elders turned to superstition to explain the phenomenon, while others blamed climate change for the drop in rainfall. Eventually, Bala also moved to the city of Bangalore, but always dreamed of bringing prosperity back to his village.

Looks like Bala’s dream will come true in 2016. Early next year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will break ground for one of the largest solar parks (2 GW) in the world—in Pavagada Taluk.

That's a true story. The little boy in it is GV Balram, Managing director of Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited (KREDL), the man behind the Pavagada solar park. Villagers in Pavagada Taluk are proud of him and share this story with everybody involved in the solar park project.

Engaging local farmers was key to Bala’s dream

Land is key to building solar parks. But in a densely populated country like India, large swathes of land that can be used for this purpose have been tough to come by. But Balram, having grown up in a village, had a different perspective on this compared to other solar entrepreneurs. He knew that farmers are typically emotionally attached to their land. So, instead of land acquisition or transfer, Balram gave farmers the option of leasing out their land for 25-35 years. Given how farmers have suffered little due to no crop yield in recent years due to low rainfall, the land lease model, farmers could help them earn nearly $300 per acre/year and still have the land stay in their names. From impoverished farmers to wealthier ones, currently, more than 2,000 farmers are in the process of signing leases for around 10,000 acres of land.

Balram does not want to stop at just land lease payments to farmers. He is motivating local farmers to create a cooperative, which will provide basic health, education and other livelihood services to residents of Pavagada village. He also has plans to offer jobs to local villagers inside the solar park. He also plans to keep two percent of the cost of the solar park project towards the social development of Pavagada.

Why are solar parks a good idea?

Solar parks follow a “plug and play” model for potential investors, by designating and developing one or more blocks of land as a concentrated zone for solar development. Individual solar plants will share common infrastructure like power evacuation and roads, reducing costs. The major interest in these concentrated hubs have been due to their ability to achieve economies of scale by developing shared infrastructure facilities for each business located in the zone. Moreover they reduce unforeseen risks for investors by acting as a single window clearance agency and providing certainty with respect to investment and relevant policy, regulatory and incentive frameworks.

With around 300 days of sunshine every year, India has among the best conditions in the world to harness solar energy. However, the steep up-front costs of solar projects, high borrowing costs and lack of access to long-term capital have stalled solar energy growth. Now, the government has set a target of 100 GW of solar by 2022, of which 20 GW is for solar parks.

KREDL is partnering with the World Bank and others to understand best practices globally and to reduce the cost of financing for shared infrastructure inside the solar park. If all goes well, the Pavagada solar park will be the first worldwide with a capacity of more than 1 GW, putting Pavagada on the world map. The Asia Sustainable and Alternative Energy Program (ASTAE), which is a trust fund program, financed a grant for the World Bank team in preparing the groundwork to develop its own lending to the Pavagada Solar Park and a similar project elsewhere in India. ASTAE support has been crucial in allowing the Bank to develop templates for required financial management and procurement actions, as well as the environmental and social screening actions that all solar parks will have to follow if they wish to be sustainable and well managed. It has also helped the World Bank communicate international best practices to the Indian team gearing to implement the solar park.

The climate agreement reached in Paris has given a great deal of legitimacy to pursuing clean energy options for a low-carbon future, moving solar energy from the fringe to the mainstream of national debates on energy policy. India, like Morocco, Jordan, South Africa and China, for example, is aiming to replace at least part of its fossil-fuel dependent energy requirements through solar energy. Pavagada is a key part of that plan.

Is bigger better?

Concentrating solar power in one location brings economies of scale, but not without operational challenges. Clouds or continuous rainfall over a solar park site can shut it down for days. Although solar energy is free, it is not reliable across different seasons and not fully predictable, which makes it difficult to schedule power across an electricity grid. But this can be managed through storing energy and using other renewable energy technologies (pumped storage hydro, in the case of Karnataka). Powergrid, India’s central transmission utility, is building a green energy corridor (transmission network) to export power from large renewable energy parks to other states in the country which may neither have the land available, nor the solar resources that Karnataka enjoys.  

Pavagada Park is a blueprint for how risks associated with large-scale renewable energy projects can be managed. Good planning and cooperation between local communities and the public and private sectors can help transform a remote village into a thriving community. The sprawling fields of solar panels could potentially make it a popular tourist destination.

As of December 2015, electricity supply in Pavagada areas has been generated from natural gas. Once completed, Pavagada Park is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 million tons and save 3.6 million tons of natural gas annually. When I met Balram during a site visit to Pavagada recently, he was accompanied by his son Amit, who is over the moon to see his father’s dream come true. 

Comments

Submitted by Shekhar Morabad on

Amazing Concept Balaram Sir.
We are proud on your Leadership and Concept.

Submitted by Shekhar Morabad on

Amazing Concept Balaram Sir.
We are proud on your Leadership and Concept.

Submitted by matome lawrence on

Hi,i would like to know how to bring solar energy geazar as a job opportunity at my community.

Submitted by matome lawrence on

Hi,i would like the ideas growing chiecken to my community, because i have worked at chiecken farm i dont have starting money.

Submitted by K N Subramaniam on

Dear Balram Sir
What you are doing is Transformational at Pavagada. Keeping human emotions on the piece of land , you are transforming to Productive Land for Solar Power. I do not have words to complement your actions. I am happy Farmers listen some sane voices like you an move on in life. Hope to see many farmers in other states accept the developmental model. This can ensure power to peer the dreams and set the villages on the path of development. A true hero- Salutations you
K N Subramaniam

Submitted by Hedgehogsorg on

What a great invent to be executed,... But land in India,wont do 100GW.unless you will have to upgrade the solar panels and components.....help HEDGEHOGSORG with project #CLEANGREENLAGOS,which WILL include,85% of mosquito eradication,mini green energy houses to improve charging system of a whole community... Please like us.

Submitted by Prakash Magal on

Dear Balaram ji
My hearty congratulations on this mega dream of yours being realised. May Karnataka and India have more such leaders.
Prakash Magal
Certified Energy Auditor & Solar consultant
www.enertech-solar.com

Submitted by Dattatraya Bhat on

Hi Balaram,

Congrates, It is Simply Amazing, Son of a soil makes the soil to shine by sun.Great contribution to the mother land, I feel humbly elated to know the achievement of my friend "Big B" , college mate, class mate, hostel mate, room mate, desk mate.......I wish the great success to continue to be part for his future endeavour for tall leadership of my tall friend.....
Best Regards
Bhat

Submitted by Venkata Reddy R on

Dear Balaramji,
Hearty congratulations. A big achievement. When you conceptualised 1000MW park, it seemed an impossibility to get required land.you have achieved what was considered an uphill task, even exceeded the planned.It is the biggest park. It became a reality because of your meticulous planning and pursuation. Khudos to you . Surely scenario of So called backward Pavagada will change for good.Now and then Pavagada will be in news, this time it will be in world news. May God bless you with more such successes for the benefit of community

Submitted by Murali S on

Dear Balram sir,
This is great news for our region, i belong to Thirumani village n very proud to share this development with all people.
I would also like to know other development plans for this region apart from solar. Any scope for industries or factories coming up in this region
Regards
Murali

Submitted by C R V Reddy on

Dear Friend,
Let me congratulate you for having taken lots of people confidence and achieved the target of pooling required land for establishing world's largest SPV plant at one place is an amazing task.It also helping thousands of farmers of draught hit places of Pavagada in particular.Iam proud of my friend for his significant role in the forthcoming project.
Wishing you all very successful implementation of this PV plant.My heart full gratitude to our great visionery the PM of India and all concerned ministry and CM of Karnataka.Definitely I will visit to this plant.

With regards
CRVREDDY

Submitted by C R V Reddy on

Dear Friend,
Let me congratulate you for having taken lots of people confidence and achieved the target of pooling required land for establishing world's largest SPV plant at one place is an amazing task.It also helping thousands of farmers of draught hit places of Pavagada in particular.Iam proud of my friend for his significant role in the forthcoming project.
Wishing you all very successful implementation of this PV plant.My heart full gratitude to our great visionery the PM of India and all concerned ministry and CM of Karnataka.Definitely I will visit to this plant.

With regards
CRVREDDY

Submitted by C R V Reddy on

Dear Friend,
Let me congratulate you for having taken lots of people confidence and achieved the target of pooling required land for establishing world's largest SPV plant at one place is an amazing task.It also helping thousands of farmers of draught hit places of Pavagada in particular.Iam proud of my friend for his significant role in the forthcoming project.
Wishing you all very successful implementation of this PV plant.My heart full gratitude to our great visionery the PM of India and all concerned ministry and CM of Karnataka.Definitely I will visit to this plant.

With regards
CRVREDDY

Submitted by krishna reddy on

woooooooooooooooooooooow.

Finally My Pavagada is going to World class Level, I am Feeling Proud and happy.

Thanks For all the contributors involve in this project.

Regards.
Krishna reddy.

Submitted by manjunatha.s.s on

I love pavagada.... I like ur ideas and u taken give to good information at pavagada ...

Submitted by Harrison Ndifon on

This is an awesome and good performance Pavagada. Please do ensure the project components are fully implemented. #reduce pressure on standing Trees and save the climate#

Submitted by Manjubhargava on

Respected Sir,
Hearty congratulations. A big achievement. When your conceptualized 1000MW park,
this is great news for our regions,
Thank you,

Submitted by Raghu on

Dear Balram sir,
Your given identity of Pavagada thank you sir

Submitted by PRADIPTA KUMAR PATRA on

congratulation sir, Amazing Concept .thanks sir.we are proud of you,
sir, plz give me an idea, how can i product solar power for my house use,
i am from (AT/PO-SARADA,VIA-KONARK,DIST-PURI,ODISHA)

Thanks with best regards:-

PRADIPTA KUMAR PATRA

Submitted by K H RAYAPPA on

Amazing initiative of converting the land where i took birth into a power sender to the rest of mother land
Being an Electrical Engineer by profession I express my sincere thanks to the sponsors of this MEGA GREEN POWER GENERATION

Submitted by Brihat System on

Very nice concept..!
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Our mission is to provide the best energy solutions suited to all your needs and to be the most trusted solar power company in India.
Visit for more : http://www.brihat.in

Submitted by Manoj Kumar.V.P on

Dear Balram,

Congratulations sir, Your Dreams come true.

The success of the your project not only for you, its for the PAVAGADA People also.

Thanks and Regards,
Manoj kumar from pavagada.

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