DHUNDI VILLAGE IN GUJARAT SHOWS THE WAY FOR COOPERATIVE SOLAR ENTERPRISE
With the help of Colombo-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI), six Gujarat farmers have formed world’s first solar power cooperative society to sell surplus power generated from solar water pumps installed at their farms. This article discusses about a splendid success story in the field of renewable energy in Gujarat.
After conducting a successful pilot project of connecting farmers with the grid at Anand district of Gujarat, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has now assembled six farmers of Dhundi village in Kheda district of Gujarat for a solar power cooperative society. The village did not have access to the agricultural grid. This meant that the farmers here used expensive, noisy, and polluting diesel pumps to pump water out of the ground to irrigate their crops. Diesel pumps were replaced with grid connected solar pumps, installed meters to record the energy, entered into an agreement with the local distribution utility (MGVCL) to buy back any excess power at the rate of 4.63/kWh. Six farmers opted into the scheme—three farmers with five HP pumpsets and three farmers with 7.5 HP pumpsets. The farmers paid roughly 20 per cent of the price of the pump, while the remaining capital came from the research grant. While states like Karnataka have announced similar plans, the difference in this pilot project is that farmers have been brought together in the form of a cooperative. Farmers now pool their excess power and sell this to the utility, instead of each farmer having an independent agreement with the discom. Having been trained on use of solarwater pump and how to earn from connecting surplus power from it to the grid, these farmers have come together to form a solar cooperative society named Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali or Solar Pump Irrigators Cooperative Enterprise (SPICE). The cooperative society has been registered at Registrar of Cooperative Society, Government of Gujarat. “It is for the first time that someone has set up solar cooperative society. We showcased our pilot project to these small farmers to help them understand that this could be a new mode of earning which eventually led to formation of the society”, Tushar Shah of IWMI said.
State discom Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Limited (MGVCL) and Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute (GERMI) are also supporting IWMI for this project. With the trial run of power supply to the grid being completed, farmers have begun supplying surplus power from solar pumps on commercial basis to MGVCL at the rate of Rs 4.70 per unit. The cooperative society members being small farmers, IWMI had supported them financially for purchase and installation of pumps and solar panels. The institute has so far funded about 40 lakh in the project. Shah said, “Solar pump costs are not affordable for small farmers so we decided to provide funds to them. We have installed 58 kW solar water pumps in Dhundi village. However, we will not add more funds and would rather go for the government’s schemes for solar water pumps when we induct new members in the solar cooperative society.” IWMI has also decided to showcase this model to other parts of Gujarat by inviting farmers. MGVCL has signed an agreement with the society to purchase surplus power. It is also helping the society connect with the grid. SPICE is expecting to supply about 250 units power a day to the grid. “We have signed a power purchase agreement with the farmers of the solar cooperative society at the rate of Rs 4.70 per unit. This is not the end, if more farmers join, we will connect them also with the grid as part of the agreement”, an MGVCL official stated. Through the society, farmers are hoping to bring down costs as well as earn almost double through sale of surplus power. The farmers at Dhundi are small farmers with average landholding of only one acre. Each farmer spends close to 20,000 annually on diesel for irrigation. “With SPICE, the farmers will not only save the costs on diesel but will also be earning close to 40,000 per annum from sale of solar power”, said P Raghu who is in-charge of the project.
On its part, GERMI is providing technical support to the society and educating farmers about operation of the pumps and connection with the grid. According to IWMI, the local utility will also save on future subsidy of around Rs 50,000 per annum per farmer which they would have incurred had these farmers gotten electricity connections instead of solar pumps. Considering that India has close to 15–20 million electric pumps which annually absorb Rs 60,000 crore of farm power subsidies to earn a meagre income, the idea of SPICE offers wide ranging appeal. A community-based approach reduces the chance of any one farmer stealing power from his neighbour’s grid. Cooperatives are self-regulatory in nature.
The pilot at Dhundi, Gujarat, presents a feasible solution to reduce the agricultural electricity consumption from the grid, thus eliminating power subsidies that are inherent to India’s power sectors. Every unit of electricity that is evacuated onto the grid will mean that groundwater remains under the ground. The key challenge would be to arrive at the right number for the buyback of power—a number that is acceptable to both the farmer and the utility. In a scenario of rapidly falling solar tariffs, this is indeed a challenge. Nevertheless, Dhundi demonstrates that small yet simple solutions can go a long way in solving India’s power and water problems.