How one Indian village is lighting the way in green energy drive

India’s MANIPUR The remote community of Hengbung, located in northeast India’s Himalayan foothills and frequently pounded by severe winds and landslides, is used to experiencing protracted power outages.

The village’s difficult environment, which is mountainous, difficult to access, and crisscrossed by streams, is now proving to be an opportunity to guarantee the community’s access to reliable electricity.

The first such project in India to combine hydro and solar went into operation in the hamlet in July with the installation of a pumped-storage hydropower system with solar-powered pumps.

The plant, which is situated on a stream, has two connected reservoirs and functions effectively as a huge water battery that stores renewable energy for release at a later time during grid failures or when demand is higher.

According to the Foundation for Environment and Economic Development Services (FEEDS), an NGO working in the project, the system has provided steady lighting in houses and streets for at least 350 residents in Hengbung, a town in the Manipur state.

Haokholet Kipgen, the founder of FEEDS and a resident of Hengbung as well as the local political representative for the surrounding area, claimed that the project has “made a sea change in the lives of our villagers by fighting out darkness while keeping the environment clean.”

The project, a partnership between FEEDS, the NB Institute for Rural Technology (NBIRT), and Visva-Bharati University, is a part of an initiative to increase India’s capacity for renewable energy and is funded by the federal government to the tune of 29 million rupees ($353,195).

India, one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gases globally, plans to boost its renewable energy production from its current output of roughly 120 GW to 500 GW by 2030.

Hydropower has been identified as a crucial component of this because it can offer continuous power when other green power sources, like solar and wind, are constrained by bad weather.

But in order to ensure that the country’s grid is stable around-the-clock and outages are prevented, energy storage is also required as renewable energy generation increases, particularly from solar power.

According to the India Energy Storage Alliance, India’s entire operating battery storage capacity is around 50 megawatt hours (MWh). (IESA). According to a recent analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), by 2030, the nation would require 327 gigawatt hours (GWh).

Pumped-hydro storage projects (PSP), according to energy experts, might be a major solution. India’s power ministry has announced draft rules to support the technology.

There are currently eight PSPs functioning in India, with a total capacity of roughly 4.7 GW. The majority of these PSPs get the majority of their operating electricity from the national grid.

However, the Indian government has selected roughly 120 locations with a combined storage capacity of 103 GW for the technology.

Energy analysts reported that private power corporations are now looking to combine hydro power with clean energy, following the example of the historic system in Hengbung, and that nine further PSPs have been commissioned, with three currently under construction.

According to Santi Pada Gon Chaudhuri, the founder of NBIRT and an energy counselor to the federal government, “Such projects show the way in transitioning to a sustainable energy future by integrating renewable energy with hydroelectric power and storage.”

India supports the use of pumped hydro storage.

Two interconnected reservoirs at the PSP at Hengbung have a combined capacity of 1.9 million liters of water, or roughly three-quarters of an Olympic swimming pool.

The higher reservoir releases stream water that has been stored during power outages—which are frequently brought by by busted transformers or snapped transmission cables during monsoon rains and in the winter—to run a turbine and supply green power to the grid.

Once it has accumulated in the lower reservoir, the released water is eventually pushed back upstream using solar power to make it once more available for power generation.

Excess solar energy is sent into the national grid during the monsoons when there is enough stream water to run the turbine and replenish the upper reservoir.

PSPs, according to energy experts, last at least six decades longer than lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries.

Disha Agarwal, senior project lead at CEEW, a think tank, said, “Pumped water storage systems can be a reliable option… especially when renewable sources like the sun or the wind may not be available to match the electricity demand.”

Due to the negative effects on the environment and society, residents of various Himalayan regions of India and other areas are protesting vehemently against the construction of large hydroelectric plants.

Arun Kumar, a professor of hydro and renewable energy at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IITR), asserted that PSPs, which are often situated distant from rivers and populated areas, require far less space than large hydro plants.

Nevertheless, he noted that maintaining the necessary water levels, obtaining land clearances, and luring investment were issues PSPs had to deal with.

According to the draft rules on PSPs from the electricity ministry, Indian states should take into account discounts, subsidies, and tax relief for such projects. They are also encouraged to utilise climate finance tools like sovereign green bonds.

The average cost per kilowatt unit stored for PSPs, according to Kumar’s team of researchers who examined more than 50 PSPs in various stages of development, was roughly 3 rupees ($0.04), which is about half as much as other storage choices.

He claimed that even though the systems require an initial capital outlay of between 50 and 60 million rupees ($608,000 to $730,000) per MW of capacity, they are long-term cost-effective storage options.

Sustainable energy transition.

So far, the Hengbung project has provided electricity for 84 village street lights and lit the houses of 350–400 villagers. The following phase seeks to include an additional 1,100 people.

Residents reported that electricity supplies are now much more consistent than they were in past years, when extreme weather and landslides caused power outages and required days to complete repairs in the community.

According to FEEDS, it has given local youth maintenance training and pays villages to make repairs when issues emerge.

Romi Rai, a 32-year-old who makes a living raising chickens, stated, “The system is in our hands now; we can run and maintain it ourselves.”

Rai and his wife Jeena said the system had improved their family life by giving her light to do stitching and household chores more hours of the day, and helping their 6-year-old son do his homework without worrying about the lights going out.

The couple said they are also proud their community is providing an example for the rest of the nation.

“We are happy to be a part of the country’s green energy drive, even from our remote village,” Rai said.

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