In the first week of March, I attended the 6th International Biofuels Conference in New Delhi. In this conference I learned of an entrepreneurial venture by a tiny village in India that left me amazed. The village is producing its own electricity to meet all its energy requirements!
The Indian IT success story is known across the globe. In urban India, we pride ourselves in using the latest technology and most urban teenagers are gadget freaks. On the other hand, hundreds of villages do not even have electricity in my country.
Recntly, the Nobel Prize winner Rajendra Pachauri launched a major green campaign in India. In this campaign, called Light a Billion Lives, free solar powered lamps are given to households in villages that have no electricity. This is a great campaign that has benefited dozens of villages in rural India.
However, I always felt that there are major drawbacks to this campaign. The most important one being that lamps can never substitute electricity. Electricity is needed for uses other than providing light. For example, it is required to use pumps to draw water for irrigation, and we also need electricity for modern equipment like computers and mobile phones, which can truly revolutionize life in the rural areas.
The general perception in India is that electricity is provided by the government and can be produced only by the public sector or large private sector enterprises. I hope the following project will change that!
Unlike several other villages in India, Ranidhera, a tiny village in the state of Chattisgarh, did not give up hope on electricity. After years of frustration trying to persuade the government, they decided to take matters in their own hands. Today it is the first village in India to be lit up from Jatropha oil. Jatropha oil is extracted from the seeds of Jatropha plants; they are non-edible plants which grow on marginal lands and are easy to grow.
Jatropha was planted in Ranidhera in 2006. The villagers extract oil from the seeds, using a basic oil expeller machine, and run their generators with it –the village has three power generators and a backup generator. The electricity generated has resulted in a host of benefits to the village, including lighting up its streets, ensuring that children can study after dark, running water pumps, and providing entrepreneurs with longer working hours. I feel Ranidhera takes Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a “self-sufficient” village a step further!
In a country where even citizens living in the big metropolis can’t boast an uninterrupted power supply, this village stands out as a model and speaks volumes of the entrepreneurial talents in our rural areas. It also shows how biofuels can be the driver for rural development and a “clean” solution to the world’s energy concerns.