KUTCH’S SUNSHINE ZONE

There is a buzz around six villages in the sun-drenched Kutch region of Gujarat. All six lie within the catchment area of the Ultra Mega Power Project–flagship scheme of Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL)–the wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company. While all six are endowed with a bounty of sunlight, these days a special glow has been noticed around the residents of Nanikhakar, Modhva, Tragadi and Gundiyali villages in Mandvi taluka, claims the local grapevine. And this is particularly visible at night! Confused? Well, CGPL has installed 77 solar street lights in these four villages, and life for the 1200 families who live here, has changed significantly.

The initiative to harness solar power to light up rural settlements has always been a part of Tata Power Company’s Energy Mission. The Company is one of the leading renewable energy players in India with robust a portfolio of 22 per cent generation from clean energy sources. Tata Power‘s current clean energy portfolio comprises of 28+ MW of solar plants, 375 MW of wind capacity and 447 MW of hydro projects. Its solar projects include a 3 MW, Photovoltaic (PV) based grid connected solar plant at Mulshi in the Western Ghats; a 25 MW Solar PV Power Project at Mithapur in Gujarat and a 60.48 kWp Solar Power Plant installed on the rooftop of its office at Carnac Bunder in Mumbai. It has also partnered with the Australian company – Sunergy Pty. to build the first floating solar plant in India.

So Tata Power is a seasoned player. But that was barely discernible in the attitude of the CGPL team which approached the villagers, proposing the project. The local Panchayat was roped in. Days were spent in informing the people about the benefits of using this non-polluting natural source of energy. “We got to learn that sun is a reliable and in-exhaustive source of electricity. That in a solar installation, initial costs are relatively high. One had to set up the self-contained energy collection and storage system.  But after that, the energy itself is free!  When compared to the traditional system’s ongoing maintenance costs – plus the never ending electric bills –making the choice was not difficult at all declares Mahmud Bhai, a 55 year old fisherman, who lives in Tragadi.

But even the CGPL team had not envisaged the tidal wave of demands, following the installation of the lights in the first phase. “It was as if a magic wand had touched the world around us and transformed it,” recounts Dakshaben, a 30 year old health worker, from Nanikhakar. A village that used to slip into a dark and silent stupor after sun set, is now abuzz and active till late evening. “We can carry on working for longer hours,” says Daksha’s son, who has a shop in the local market, “With the street lights on, people find the roads safer and are out till late at night.” For him solar lights have translated into better business.

tpHe is not the only one. Mahmud Bhai claims that with the roads to the fishing coasts alight, fishermen are confident about moving their equipment around for longer hours. “We are more productive, and business is good,” he says.

For CGPL it’s a ‘sunshine’ scenario. People are happy and at the same time it has been able to reiterate, very stridently, its commitment to promote green energy.

No wonder a special glow enfolds the ‘solar’ villages. It’s the glow of success.

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