Synthesizing energy and agriculture for sustainable rural development

Power is recognized as one of the most important inputs for economic growth and human development. Yet, 56 percent of rural households still do not have access to electricity (as per National Electricity Policy). Despite several policy initiatives by the Government of India (GoI) in extending the national grid, like Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana , many have opted not to connect because of poor reliability and inadequate supply. Therefore the power situation in rural areas is still extremely grim.

In response to this situation, many new alternative power generation initiatives have come about, including some that seek to explore ways to use agricultural waste to generate power. Considering that, I wish to explore the energy and agriculture nexus in order to arrive at a sustainable rural development ideology. Agriculture has a dual role as an energy user and as an energy supplier in the form of bioenergy. This function of agriculture offers important rural development opportunities as well as means of climate change mitigation by substituting bioenergy for fossil fuels.

I came across an interesting paper by Anil K Rajvanshi, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) on ‘Sustainable Energy for Rural Development’. In it, Dr. Rajvanshi proposes that that energy production from agricultural waste, using various new and efficient forms of technology, could be one of the best solutions to the energy crisis in rural areas.
“India produces 600-1000 million tons/year of agricultural residues that are mostly burned in fields, creating environmental pollution and loss of energy. From crops and residues, three types of fuel can be produced:
_Liquid fuels like ethanol, biodiesel or pyrolysis oil.
_Gaseous fuel like methane (biogas).
„_Electricity via biomass-based power plants.
„Hence, residues can produce 156 b l/yr of ethanol which is 42% of India’s oil demand in 2012; or 80% of oil demand via pyrolysis oil; or 80,000 MW of electric power. Residues for energy can give an extra income of $ 50-100/acre/season to the farmers and insurance against distress sale of crops. With increased agriculture the residues will increase and electricity and liquid fuel production in rural areas will bring tremendous wealth.”

Such an initiative has been conceptualized and accomplished by Ratnesh Kumar Yadav at Husk Power Systems where they cover the entire gamut of energy production. It is the only company that both produces as well as supplies energy. They install and operate small biomass gasifiers using agricultural waste as feedstock to generate electricity. They buy locally available agricultural waste (rice husk, mustard stem, khar, corn cob etc.) from the villagers and hire local people to operate and manage those plants. Using their distribution network they also sell that electricity to the nearby villages on a pay-for-use basis . The electricity delivered by Husk Power Systems is much cheaper, healthier, and eco friendly than kerosene or diesel that villagers were using earlier. Dr. Ratnesh will also be one of the speakers at Pecha Kucha Night on the 11th of October. We will also be deepening our understanding of Nimble Agriculture in our fourth Design Public Conclave to be held on the 30th of November in Mumbai. So, stay tuned for more.

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