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Husk Power Systems aims to install 2014 rice husk power plants by 2014 in India

In June this year, Husk Power Systems (HPS) of Bihar was one of the recipients of the  prestigious Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy in London.

HPS generates electricity through the gasification of rice husk. The company has been trying to boost its entrepreneurial capacity in collaboration with Britain-based Shell Foundation for about two years.

HPS has about 60 gasification plants that provide affordable electricity to over 25,000 Bihar households. Each connection costs Rs.100.

According to reports, Ratnesh, 32, is one of the partners who started the renewable energy company in 2007 to bring light into rural homes that were not connected to the grid. The company uses rice husk and other biomass to generate electricity for its mini plants across the district (West Champaran). Currently, the company runs 70 plants, with 10 more in the pipeline.

“It’s like a sliver on one corner if you look at the map, cut off from the rest of Bihar,” comments Ratnesh Yadav, the COO of Husk Power Systems (HPS), about the district.

By 2014, it aims to install 2014 rice husk power plants, each having a capacity of 35-50 kW. For the record, India still has approximately 1,25,000 villages that are yet to be connected to the grid.

We reach Dahwa village, where the HPS plant is about nine months old. As dusk descends, the husk loader climbs the stairs of an interesting contraption where gasification of the husk takes place. He loads the husk, which once turned into gas passes through purifying chambers to ultimately reach the generator that converts it into electricity. Distribution is done through a special wiring in a 30 km radius, the electricity reaching 400 homes and shops in the vicinity.

Dahwa, like the rest of the villages using these plants, gets electricity for six hours – from 6 pm to 12 pm. At the consumer end, the company provides two CFL bulbs and an electrical point to charge the mobile. It initially charges each household Rs 100 for the connection. Later a pre-paid system of billing determines the user charge, on an average Rs 80 to Rs 100 a month.

For generating one unit or a kilo watt hour of electricity, the power plant uses less than 2 kg of rice husk. At around 95 paise for a kg of rice husk, the variable cost for generating one unit of electricity is under Rs 2. The total capital expenditure for a month for each plant is pegged around Rs 24,000, including the salaries, raw material and maintenance.

No one seems to be grumbling about the Rs 100 that they have to shell out.

“Earlier as night came on, we would be plunged in darkness and had to use kerosene for our lanterns or else candles. Now our children can study after dark, we also keep our shops open for longer hours and do better business,” says Ranjit, a butcher in the village market.

More enthusiastic are the youngsters, some of whom are employed at the plant. Apart from light in the home, 21-year-old Ajit Kumar is proud to be a company employee. “I started as an electrician in 2009. I was picked up for further training in a short while. Now I’m doing my BA, working as a mechanic with HPS and earning Rs 6,500,” he says proudly.

Many more enthusiastic boys like Ajit would soon be part of the venture, says Ratnesh explaining their skills training venture – the Husk Power University.

Started through a Shell Foundation grant, the idea is to find and train talent in the vicinity of each plant. “As we scale up we need a lot of trained human resource. Professional skills are scarce in these parts,” says Ratnesh.

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