15 Nov 2011
Solar lighting - No time to wait for grid or government
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Less than a kilometer from Asia's largest Solar Termal plant, west of Bikaner, Rajasthan, lives the farmer Sabhu Khan. His hamlet is still unreached by the grid. Instead of the grid connection, he decided to go for an off-grid solar system – He bought it himself, at full market price – for Rs. 9500 and a 12 volt car-battery – locally made and with a 1 year guarantee.

The panel and battery he bought is enough for two lights and is more than enough for Sabhu Khan's needs. His satisfaction with the panel is obvious as he had an earlier system stolen from him during the night but still decided to buy a new one. To avoid further theft he now takes the panel inside from the roof at night.

Sabhu Khan cares little for the huge solar thermal plant that can be seen clearly from his roof. The large plant had to buy out local farmers for the land, and its high-voltage power lines bring the power off to Bikaner city while his own very local roof-top power plant takes up no space and provides power when needed – in the evening, for his children's homework. He had no idea about any government subsidy and didn't even care. The system was working and worth the cost, even if it meant an extra trip to the roof each day. The alternative if it can be called so was the expensive and smokey kerosene lanterns.

In Phalodi some 160 kilometers away shopkeeper Nandkishor Sharma's solar lighting systems are selling like ice-cream on a very sunny day. And since it is almost always a very sunny day in Phalodi, the solar PV business is good. Sharma's systems consist of a 15W, 5W, or 3 W panel and a 12 volt or smaller battery. He also sells small and energy-efficient LED lights to go with them. As cost for solar modules globally are coming down these systems are getting further cheaper – Sharma's 15 W panel goes for Rs. 1650 and a car battery with a 1 year warranty comes in at Rs. 3000.

According to P.K. Pattanaik of Arayvart Grameen Bank kerosene costs for lanterns can come to Rs. 280 a month. Over a 5 year period (the life-time of the battery, although the panel itself can last much longer) this comes to a total of Rs. 16800 – much higher than either Sharma's or Sabhu Khan's solar systems. While lowering the consumption of kerosene by 480 liters per household the solar PV systems also gives cleaner and brighter light

Sharma states that his panels are a big hit among un-electrified farmers. These are farmers who have grown tired of waiting for the grid or for government subsidies.