If all goes well, rice husk and solar power — two very unlikely entities — will together provide rural India with a twin solution to its problems of power shortage and lack of storage for agriculture produce. What's more, the evolving system promises zero emission of pollutants as well.
The government's Solar Energy Centre has managed to make use of rice husk and solar power, which are both being wasted at present, to come up with a technological marvel that would prevent wastage of food grains in rural India. "Around one-third of the agriculture produce goes waste in the absence of adequate storage facilities," said SK Singh, director of the centre run by the ministry of new and renewable energy. "Our technology can help set up low-cost cold storages in rural India."
Through this project, the ministry provided electricity to every household in a village in Bihar's West Champaran district in August 2007. The rice husk is burnt to produce enough energy for powering a turbine and producing electricity. As of now, there are 60 mini-rice husk powered electricity plants that light 25,000 households in different parts of the country.
The emission from the rice husk plants is coupled with energy generated by solar thermal plates to run a cold storage with a capacity of 15 tonnes.
The project, undertaken in collaboration with Thermax and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), has gone past the experiment stage and is set to be rolled out in rural India. "Bihar could be our first destination, because integrating the solar unit with rice husk power systems would be easy there," said Gireesh B Pradhan, secretary, ministry of new and renewable energy.
To dispel the belief that solar energy is only meant for villages, the Solar Energy Centre has also developed the world's most efficient solar-based air-conditioning unit, which can run for over eight hours in urban commercial complexes. "Three or four such units have already been installed in companies such as TVS Motors," said an official from private partner, Thermax.
The Centre is also developing a diesel-solar hybrid unit to power industrial units at an estimated cost of Rs. 90 lakh. "The additional cost can be recovered in less than five years, and it will run effectively for 20," said another scientist.