In Atrauli, the days were depressingly short — 14 hours in all — till last year.
After sunset, it seemed as if someone had hit the pause button on this border village in Uttar Pradesh's Hardoi district. Shops shut down, markets closed, women didn't venture outdoors and students couldn't study. Banks stayed away, irrigation suffered and incomes were abysmal.
And then, last October, Omnigrid Micropower Company — a RESCO company — set up its first solar power plant in the village and Atrauli began to stir.
A Renewable Energy Service Company (RESCO) is one which provides energy to consumers from renewable energy sources, usually solar photovoltaics, wind power or micro hydro.
Six decades after independence, the power situation in the most populous state of India is less than satisfactory and the villages are the worst affected. Places like Atrauli, located on the borders of the districts, get power only seven to eight hours a day. And god forbid, if there is a fault, it takes days to repair it.
What makes things worse is that unlike many Indian cities affected by power crisis, people in these villages cannot afford generators — they run on diesel, which is quite expensive — and invertors don't work as there is never enough power to charge them.
Local businessman Pradeep Kumar Singh was the first man to introduce the benefits of solar power to Atrauli.
"Omnigrid Micropower Company (OMC) wanted to set up its solar plant in the village and I offered them my land. Two phone towers, already up on the land, were the first ones to be powered by OMC in April 2012."
In October, Singh, who had just started his petrol pump few months back, switched to solar power. "Running things on generator was really expensive. We had to wind up the day's work by evening."
Soon, OMC was offering villagers solar lanterns, table-fans and mobile chargers on rent. The battery-operated lamps and fans are charged at the OMC solar in the village.
A vehicle delivers them to the homes of villagers who do not have solar connections and deposit them back to OMC when the battery runs out. The rent is Rs. 4 per day for a lantern, and Rs. 10 for a fan and mobile phone charger.
Says Priya Singh, who appeared for her class 10 exams this year, "Kerosene lamps would not ensure adequate light and the fumes were awful. But the solar lanterns helped me study till late at night."
Right now, OMC offers solar connection to those who consume a minimum of five units per day. But at Rs. 22 per unit plans the charges are much higher than the regular electricity charges in UP — Rs. 4 to 5 per unit — so efforts are on to work out something cheaper eventually.
Singh has set up a degree college just behind the plant. Solar power connections are in place and the college will be functional soon.
"There are two degree colleges already in the village and some inter colleges too. But this would be the first one where students would get education coupled with comfort," he says.
Work is on to set up an air-conditioned cinema hall also. As of now, villagers have to travel at least 20km to catch a movie.
The dairy farmers are also cheering; the village will have its own air-conditioned dairy chiller from October.
Milk production is high in Atrauli, but currently, milk produced in the village is sold to Parag and other local cooperative societies as there is no storage facility.
"Many feel they don't get good prices and very often the milk spoils if there is a delay in transportation. A village-level dairy chiller would eliminate these problems. It will also encourage dairy farming in the village," said Singh.