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The sun shines brightest for rural hamlets in India

According to reports, one may rue the fact that things have slowed down a lot in the country’s solar programme — what with there being no dawn for the National Solar Mission’s Phase II and several State programmes being in a limbo — but there seems to be a silver lining.

It has been said that the real solar story is not quite about the big megawatts of capacity added to the grid, which can at best be only marginal. The real story is the use of solar for providing basic energy needs in villages, where its transformative role is immense. In this, there is cause for cheer.

As of the end of June, 10,154 villages and hamlets (against the sanction for 12,771) have been provided solar-electricity at a cost of Rs 715 crore under a Remote Village Electrification programme of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. These are the villages where “grid extension was not found feasible by the state governments and hence were not covered under the Government’s rural electrification programme.

Noteworthy is the fact that the North East has made good use of this programme. Assam tops the list with 1,883 villages, against the sanctioned number of 2,192. Tripura got 842 villages done (1,029 sanctioned) and Manipur and Meghalaya, 240 and 149 respectively.

Among the other States, West Bengal (1,179 villages), Odisha (950 villages), Kerala (607), Uttarakhand (594) and Madhya Pradesh (515) have benefited from the scheme.

The social impact of bringing electricity to a village can never be understated. US solar company SunEdison, which is active in India, has done six projects under its corporate social responsibility programme. Having a steady source of clean, renewable energy available has had a dramatic impact on the residents’ daily lives. “The solar plant sets the communities on the path to prosperity by eradicating darkness and allowing the residents to extend their day past sunset. Local residents can meet each other after dark, children can study and a lot of household chores can be completed before sunrise,” says Pashupathy Gopalan, Managing Director, SunEdison.

Bangalore-based Selco has been encouraging entrepreneurs to put up solar-powered ‘integrated energy centres’ in village areas, where people could come and use the electricity for a fee-charging mobile phones, lanterns and even cooking.

Some solar systems in villages pump drinking water, in some places, a community refrigerator stores life saving medicines, such as for treating snake bites.

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