Power from the Sun

A new life in the heart of India

Feature story - July 22, 2014
After months of hard work and long hours, the community-owned solar grid was finally unveiled just after midday. And as the switch was flicked to “ON”, the community went into a euphoric frenzy as if we were at a cricket ground during the world cup final and Sachin Tendulkar just scored the winning run.

I stood there, hearing the happy shouts and singing, in awe of the appreciation and excitement of the humble people of Dharnai, a community that’s largely dependent on farming for their livelihoods. They overlooked all their differences and joined forces for a common goal of having reliable energy access.

In all, the project took about six months to install, and this included basic solar training and community engagement initiatives by Greenpeace India together with their partners, CEED and Basix.

22 July 2014 Children in Dharnai Village in India

Children sit under solar panels in the Dharnai village. A solar-powered micro-grid is now supplying electricity to the village.


Two years ago Greenpeace India started working on a campaign to showcase the potential of clean energy, and part of that involved engaging closely with communities that had little or no access to the main electrical grid. In collaboration with CEED, an NGO network developed specifically to deal with this project, and Basix, the operator of today’s functioning solar power grid, they have brought to life an idea that seemed impossible two years ago to life: bringing clean, reliable electricity to the families of Dharnai.

Dharnai is a village in a province of 85 million people of whom 83% have no access to electricity. But today Dharnai is real beacon of light in the province, a shining example of how solar power can turn things around and change lives.

The 70 Kw maximum grid will generate power for 450 households and 50 local businesses, benefitting a total of around 2400 people.

And this is just the start.

22 July 2014 Solar Powered Street Light in Dharnai Village

A solar powered street lamp seen at the Dharnai village. The people of Dharnai village used to have a facility supplied by the state Government which provided electricity. This infrastructure hasn't been available for the last 33 years and diesel generators have been the only source of electricity. Development of solar power micro grid to electrify the entire village now brings new hope for its inhabitants.

While this is only one project and it’s unlikely to change the whole energy landscape alone, it is a very bold step in the right direction and the energy ministry has said it will watch the project – and look to replicate it in other communities if it’s successful here.

Like South Africa, India is a developing country and it faces the same challenge that we’re facing today – how to increase the size of the grid and extend its reach into rural communities?

But if South Africa were to take a page from the Indian book, we could soon see villages in the Transkei, North West, and the Northern Cape plugging into their own decentralised renewable energy – at a much faster rate than if we wait for the national grid to reach them.

Dharnai is an inspiration to the developing world as it showcases the power of sustainable energy creation, the power of mobilization in communites, and it also creates a new sector in energy generation; one that will live on forever in the hearts and minds of the people of Bihar, Dharnai, India.

But for now it’s back to the singing -- and there’s plenty of that!