|CERES No. 119 (FAO Ceres, 1987, 50 p.)|
Not long ago, Khandia, in the Indian state of Gujarat, was typical of many underdeveloped villages. Inhabited by about 130 farming families, it had no motorable approach road and had been bypassed by the state electric grid. Far from the centres of development and lacking irrigation facilities, its fragile farming economy depended on the whims of the weather. Villagers eked out a sort of living from whatever their impoverished wheat and rice fields yielded, in brief, Khandia epitomized the problems facing some 270 000 villages in India, to which it would be extremely difficult and prohibitively costly to provide electricity from the national grid.
Few urban-oriented energy strategists have given much thought to the peculiar energy needs of rural communities or to the evidence mat no single energy system is likely ever to meet the diverse requirements of villages. The concept of integrated rural energy systems seeking an optimum mix derived from sources like biomass, wind, and sun to meet the varied needs of rural communities is only now going through the process of experimentation in many parts of the Third World. Unfortunately, many village-based rural energy schemes that have been launched with great fanfare have fizzled out in the end due to a lack of interest on the part of villagers and of efficiently run institutions to monitor the functioning of the system.
Against this backdrop, Khandia's achievement in ending its long energy crisis by making use of local resources in an integrated manner stands out as an encouraging example. Thanks to the introduction of integrated energy techology, Khandia today is witnessing many perceptible socio-economic changes. A supply of piped gas for cocking has ended, for women, the daily drudgery of collecting firewood. The introduction of biogas stoves has eliminated health hazards associated with wood fires. Khandia's women have more leisure time than ever before. Irrigation, made possible by power from biomass gasifiers, has contributed to the expansion of agricultural activities with the result that young men, many of whom used to be obliged to leave the village to seek work elsewhere, are now able to find worthwhile jobs in their own village.
The villagers of Khandia made their initial approach to the Gujarat Energy Development Agency (GEDA), a state organization committed to all forms of energy conservation and development, to ask for help in devising an integrated energy system based on local resources. In mid-1984, at the suggestion of GEDA, 130 village families formed an energy society to generate energy from renewable resources and to share it equitably. Simultaneously, GEDA sponsored a survey of the energy needs of the village.
The survey revealed that 85 per cent of Khandia's energy requirement is accounted for by cooking. Village women used to spend much of their time collecting firewood for this purpose. The survey also showed that
Khandia receives adequate sunshine through most of the year. Its other resources were plenty of wasteland and cattle. The wasteland could provide space for raising plantations to feed the gasifiers while cattle could provide dung for the biogas operation. Based on these findings, a combination of energy devices were installed at Khandia, signalling the beginning of integrated rural energy planning.
The system in Khandia comprises a gasifier able to generate 25 kW of power for running street lights, pumpsets, and flour mills and four 4.5 kW biomass gasifiers for running water-lifting devices. The gasifiers are fueled from a 12-hectare plantation of tamarind, neem, and eucalyptus trees. There is also a biogas plant capable of yielding 85 cubic metres of gas per day. The village energy cooperatives buys dung at 10 paise per bucket and the resultant gas is supplied to 55 households. The only drawback is that the gas is supplied for only a few hours each day. The slurry left as a by-product of the biogas operation is shared among the villagers.
In addition to these devices, GEDA has also installed a solar hot water system, three solar stills, and a photovoltaic-powered refrigerator at the village primary health centre. Television and radio for community viewing and listening also run on a photovoltaic system.
The most important feature of Khandia's energy programme is the careful balancing of the village's energy needs with the availability of local resources. It would, for example, make little sense to introduce windgenerated devices since wind speeds are very low in this area. Similarly, large-scale introduction of solar cookers is not feasible, since most cooking is done after sunset.
The total investment for the various energy devices in Khandia has been estimated at Rs 1.5 million, as against a cost of Rs 1.8 million if conventional power sources had been used. GEDA's Executive Director, Dr K. S. Rao, says that the cost per caput for the project was only Rs 1 875, while Rs 2 262 would be required for electricity alone using conventional means. Like all institutional or community-based non-conventional energy projects in India, the Khandia programme has benefited from state subsidies. GEDA also assumed responsibility for installation of the system and for assuring its proper functioning. However, the village energy society takes care of day-today operations.
Encouraged by the success of the Khandia project, GEDA has now launched similar projects in five more Gujarat villages. "Khandia was an ideal village to experiment with noncommercial sources of energy," says Dr Nanubhai Amin, Chairman of GEDA. "we wanted a village with as many hostile conditions as one can think of so that future models would be adapted easily to any such village. Khandia is a case study to examine centralized versus decentralized systems wherein production and utilization of energy based on locally available renewable resources of energy are in the hands of the village community. I am convinced that a thousand such Khandias can be created throughout the country."