- The Bihar government had set a target of achieving a power generation capacity of 3,433 MW from renewable energy sources by 2022. As of August 31, 2023, the state has achieved a capacity of 415.27 MW.
- This substantial shortfall has been exacerbated by the challenges posed by the limited availability of suitable land for large renewable energy projects.
- Recognising these constraints and the urgent need to bolster renewable energy capacity, Bihar Renewable Energy Development Agency (BREDA) and power distribution companies are now focusing on promoting smaller, more accessible projects.
- One such initiative involves the installation of solar panels on rooftops, offering a potential solution to the land shortage predicament while contributing to Bihar’s renewable energy goals.
An inverter bulb, capable of providing light for up to three to four hours during a power outage, stands out among the numerous electrical appliances in Savita Kumari’s modest shop. The bulb consumes less energy and serves as a source of light during the frequent power outages experienced by the village. Savita’s shop is equipped with numerous solar-powered lights to combat these disruptions. What makes this bulb even more exceptional is that Kumari herself manufactures it in her hometown in the Gaya district of Bihar.
Savita Kumari is the director of J-Wires (Jeevika Women Initiative Renewable Energy and Solution Private Limited), a solar company under the aegis of BRLPS-JEEViKA (Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society- JEEViKA) that offers a diverse range of products, including solar-powered torches, solar panels and various types of electric bulbs. The organisation employs 60 women who work to manufacture these equipments that run on solar energy.
“The company is entirely run by women and focuses on manufacturing and selling solar-powered equipment designed to illuminate remote rural areas. Established in 2020, the company has successfully set up 341 solar shops and aspires to open 3,500 more soon,” said Kumari.
In another district of Bihar, Nalanda, the positive impact of solar energy is also evident. Ganesh Kumar, who operates an engineering workshop near the local market, enjoys uninterrupted power supply, thanks to solar energy. He remarked, “In the past, we relied on noisy and polluting diesel generators, which were financially burdensome. Government-provided electricity was often inconsistent. With solar energy, we now have stable electricity, even if we have to spend a little more.” He receives power from a mini solar grid set up by a private company, Husk Power Systems.
“I am assembling a drill machine, a project worth rupees four lakhs. With uninterrupted power supply I will be able to complete it in a month, whereas if there are power cuts, the same project will take around two months. This means I will have to keep paying the labourers for two months and will not be able to take up a new project till such time this one is done. The Husk Power Systems’ solar power supply has made it possible for me to get more work done in less time, thereby making up for their steeper prices,” he adds.
Bihar lags behind the national average in energy supply compared to its demand. Government data reveals that in 2022, Bihar required 36,635 million units of electricity but received only 35,873 million units, falling short by 762 million units, nearly two percent of the total demand. In contrast, India’s average shortfall is 0.5 percent.
Solar energy’s significance in Bihar
The power sector in Bihar is one of the worst-performing in India, as per the World Bank’s survey and analysis. It faces challenges such as inadequate rural infrastructure, financial constraints, a widening gap between electricity demand and supply, and the underperformance of state-run electricity agencies. This underperformance is primarily due to high transmission and distribution losses and low revenue collection. Losses that occur during the supply of electricity from the source to the consumer, due to technical factors such as due to energy dissipated in the conductors, transformers and other equipment used for transmission, are called transmission and distribution losses.
Mini-grids show potential in Bihar due to the state’s solar and biomass capacity.
For instance, the grid established by Husk Power in Noorsarai, Nalanda, provides electricity to at least 20 small industries. Saugata Dutta, India Country Director at Husk Power Systems, emphasised the benefits of mini-grids, stating, “One of the key advantages of mini-grids is their ability to generate electricity close to the point of consumption. This localised approach minimises transmission losses and enhances the overall efficiency of the power distribution system. As a result, electricity reaches end-users more reliably and cost-effectively.”
Solar energy possesses the highest potential in Bihar compared to other renewable energy sources like biomass, wind energy and bagasse (sugarcane bagasse). Bihar has a solar energy potential of 11,200 MW, while wind energy stands at 144 MW, biomass at 619 MW, and bagasse at 300 MW as of March 2017, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Making up for land shortages
Though solar energy has made a difference for many businesses in Bihar, the state’s pursuit of achieving its renewable energy capacity target is yet to pick up pace. According to the most recent data from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Bihar has reached a renewable energy production capacity of 420.26 MW as of September 30, 2023, with solar energy contributing 223.54 MW. This includes 112 MW from wind energy and 126 MW from biomass. In 2017, the Bihar Renewable Energy Policy set a target of achieving an installed capacity of 2969 MW of solar energy by 2022.
Khagesh Chaudhary, Assistant Director of Bihar Renewable Energy Development Agency (BREDA), explains that North Bihar and South Bihar Power Distribution Companies have set targets of achieving 10 MW capacity through rooftop solar. BREDA has issued a tender for 250 MW to set up solar plants on land.
Bihar recorded 316 kWh of per capita energy consumption compared to the national average of 1161 kWh in 2020-21. To enhance the state’s energy profile and achieve renewable energy targets, Bihar requires large-scale solar projects, but the scarcity of land still needs to be addressed.
With approximately 8.6 percent of India’s population residing in Bihar and a population density of 1106 per square kilometres compared to India’s 382 per square kilometres, acquiring land for solar projects is scarce and expensive. Most farmers in Bihar own less than two hectares of land, making land allocation for solar projects even more challenging.
Chaudhary agrees and says that the availability of land in Bihar is less due to being an agricultural state. “Land is not only unavailable, but it is also costly. There is a lot of difficulty in getting land to set up a solar project on land, and it also takes a lot of time,” explains Chaudhary.
He further said, “The 10 to 20 MW capacity is increasing yearly. Along with farming, work is going on on projects like solar projects and installing solar panels on water. Such projects have already started in Supaul and Darbhanga.”
Mini-grids have emerged as a viable solution to address the land shortage issue. A mini-grid refers to decentralised small-scale electricity generators with capacities above 10 kW to a few MW. It supplies electricity to a small, localised group of customers. However, solar farms are spread over a much larger area and connected to the central or state grid.
“Mini-grids require minimal land compared to utility-scale energy projects. Minigrids are community-based, and the small footprint of the generation plant makes efficient use of available land. Minigrids often lease land rather than purchasing it outright, further optimizing operational costs,” said Saugat Dutta.
Citizens like Shahbaz Zafar of Gaya also contribute to this effort by installing rooftop solar panels, helping bridge the energy gap.
Shahbaz Zafar, a tax consultant in Gaya, recently installed a 13-kilowatt solar panel on his house’s rooftop at Rs. 9 lakh. As a result, his four-story home now incurs negligible electricity bills, virtually reducing his electricity expenses to zero.
To reach their targets, the Bihar government’s agency, BREDA, has involved citizens like Shahbaz Zafar in their plan, allowing common people to generate solar energy on their rooftops and feed surplus electricity back into the grid.
The net metering process may sound quite simple, but people who install it believe it is quite complicated. Kali Charan, a solar panel installer in Bihar, explains the problems consumers face in installing net metering. While talking to Mongabay-Hindi, he said, “The electricity distribution company has given the facility to apply for net metering on the Suvidha app, but after applying, one has to make several trips to the office. Sometimes employees also demand money illegally.”
This story was produced with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.
Banner Image: Noorsarai in Bihar’s Nalanda district has emerged as a thriving hub for engineering works. In this town, a mini-grid operated by Husk Power ensures a consistent and uninterrupted energy supply to numerous workshops and businesses. Photo by Manish Chandra Mishra/Mongabay.