Social Enterprise Showcase: Husk Power Systems lights up Bihar through cow fodder

Over 50% of rural Bihar still with no access to electricity. But Husk Power Systems is powering villages by making use of their agricultural waste.


By Neel Tamhane

The situation of power availability in Bihar has never been rosy, but with the separation of Jharkhand in the year 2000, it became particularly critical, because most of the power generation plants fell into the newly formed state. Jharkhand getting a lion’s share of the natural resources and mines minimised the chances of Bihar generating its own electricity using coal.

Presently, only 52.8% of villages and 6% of households of the state are electrified, leaving about 85% of the population with no access to electricity. Bihar ranks second on the list of the least electrified states, with 50% of its villages in the dark due to the absence of adequate resources for energy generation and lack of transmission wires.

Bihar primarily survives on an agrarian economy with 90% of the population living in the rural areas and only 10% urbanized (2001 census). Unlike most of the surrounding states, as well as the all-India average, Bihar has a significantly higher percentage of agricultural labourers as compared to cultivators. Thus BPL population of Bihar is about 55%.

Husk Power Systems (HPS) has leveraged this fact to provide end-to-end renewable energy solutions by installing 25-kW to 100-kW ‘mini power plants’, and then wiring villages and hamlets of up to 4,000 inhabitants to deliver electricity on a pay-for-use basis.

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They established their first pilot plant in 2007, bringing light for the first time to Tamkuha, a village in West Champaran, Bihar known locally as “the fog of darkness”.

Tamkuha is a remote village on the UP-Bihar border. To get there as an intern I had an adventurous journey which included travelling by a late night train where in most people don’t buy tickets, wading through water, and travelling in a truck carrying fertilizers and pesticides. Tamkuha was infamous for dacoits, robberies, and kidnappings, being close to the highway.

After HPS electrified the village a lot has changed. People dare to venture out of their houses even after the sun sets. A bunch of men gather at the only tea shop to discuss politics, work, or life in general. The people of the village also have been spared the toxic fumes emitted by the kerosene lamps they were using earlier. It has been replaced by clean sustainable energy powered by one of their most readily available resources.

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HPS plants generate power by burning agri-residue biomass (rice husk, wheat husk, mustard shells/stem, Khar grass, etc.) at a high temperature in controlled amount of oxygen, inside a Gasifier. This causes the biomass to release a combustible gas called “Producer Gas”. The gas is then ignited and burnt inside a spark ignited Internal Combustion Engine. The rotary motion generated by the engine is used to generate electricity in an Alternator attached to the engine.

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The concept of gasification has existed for more than three decades now. However this is the first time someone has indgenised the technology, making essential modifications to use it as a viable energy source, right from the “truck engine” being used for the alternator in the beginning, to making customized filters made using the same dry husk, cloth or other readily available components. They made the best of what they had and have come up with a commercially viable prototype.

Today, HPS has more than 80 such power plants across Bihar. They never stop researching the system, consistently striving to make it better. They have been using smart prepaid metering system too, which is operated and monitored from their head-office. The smart metering system has made revenue collection a much easier task.

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In a panel discussion on Energy conducted by CNN- IBN, Dr. Arunabha Ghosh the CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) said that CEEW found that 250 odd social enterprises across the country that is responsible for filling the decentralized energy gap.

The government must continually support such fabulous initiatives, give incentives, and create an ecosystem for more such social enterprises to pop up. The recent past has shown us that it is these social enterprises are capable of playing a major role to eradicate India’s energy poverty in rural areas.


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