Solar power lights up some Sunderban villages soon after cyclone
Large parts of West Bengal went days without electricity after cyclone Amphan , which crossed the coast near the Sunderbans on May 20, battered the state with winds gusting to a top speed of 185 kmph.
Most of the Sunderbans remained without power for up to a week. Some villages were luckier Lahiripur and Kumirmari were illuminated even on May 21 after repairs on the solar microgrid immediately after the storm. A microgrid is a small energy grid that can function autonomously.
Surojit Roy, a primary school teacher in the Lahiripur says the solar microgrid is the islanders’ only friend when disaster strikes.Lighting kept people safe as many parts of the Sunderbans were inundated and toppled trees blocked roads.
“When Amphan struck, we thought everything is over. The village was rocking with the winds. I have never seen such a deadly view of the river across our village,” said Roy, who is among 3,000 people using solar microgrids installed by World Wide Fund for Nature India in phases since 20 11.
Today, the solar microgrids have a combined capacity of 84.12 kW which electrifies about 700 households.
“The best thing is we are not dependent on the main grid. In the rest of the Sunderbans, power only came back yesterday (Friday, May 29). Even now some villages are in the dark. Some trees had fallen over wires of the microgrid which electrifies households but committee members who are trained technicians managed to fix the wires in a few hours. These lights have really saved us during times of distress, they also protect us from the tigers in the forests just across the river,” added Roy.
In villages lit up by solar microgrids, there is no load shedding, or power rationing, a common problem faced by people in the Sunderbans; tigers don’t venture into a a lit-up village, according to Roy.
Prakriti Gharai, panchayat pradhan of Lahiripur, said:: “Earlier tigers would often swim across the Dutta River and stray into the villages. On one side of the river you have villages like Rajat Jubiliee, Jamespur and Anpur (tribal villages) and on the other side it is the forest where tigers live. The tiger straying has, however, stopped now because of the solar lighting in the villages and the nylon net fencing put up by the forest department on the forest boundary.”
According to WWF India, electricity from the microgrid enables each household to use three LED lamps, a fan, two switchboards with plug points for cell phone charging, and other appliances; they can also power village institutions and street lights.
The first area to be lit up by grid solar power in the Sunderbans was Rudranagar on Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas in 1994. The solar power grid and rooftop panels became popular on other remote islands as well. Gosaba, an island located on the fringes of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve, received solar power in 1997.
“Sunderbans now has the world’s highest concentration of solar rooftop panels. Around 200,000 rooftop panels have been installed by individual villagers living on remote islands,” said SP Gon Choudhury, who was then director of the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA)
Not only houses and local shops, but even street lights and schools are running on solar power.
“While on one hand people can stay outside their homes even after dark and the fear of the tiger has totally vanished, school children can now work on computers and photocopying machines can run in local shops. In some houses there are televisions too. Solar energy has changed our lives,” said Amal Mondol, secretary of the cooperative that maintains the solar microgrid set up in Anpur-Rajat Jubilee village.