It’s been nearly a year since the Greenpeace campaign for decentralised renewable energy in Bihar began, and it’s seen a multitude of forms: press conferences, network events, informal meetings with political parties, reports. It came to a head last week with the installation of the Urja Kranti Kendra, a four-storey-high dome powered by renewable energy, in the centre of Patna, Bihar’s capital city.
If action is eloquence, as Shakespeare wrote in Coriolanus, then the inauguration of the Kendra was a simple and undeniable articulation of the message we have been hearing across Bihar over the last year: decentralised renewable energy works, and it can provide energy for Bihar.
The Urja Kranti Kendra was inaugurated on the 20th October, in a ceremony attended by our NGO partners in the campaign, representatives from think tanks in Bihar, a few academics and some media. The chief guest was Dr Razi Ahmed, secretary of the Gandhi Sangrahalaya (Gandhi museum) in Patna and a Gandhian, who spoke about non-violence and the power of peaceful protest. Gandhi also urged that every village in India should be a republic, not reliant on – and so neither vulnerable to – external vagaries for its survival. As decentralised renewable energy (DRE) harnesses energy in small systems, at or near the point where that energy is needed, it has the potential to deliver energy equity to rural populations.
In India, the huge power deficit has resulted in an urban/rural divide of electricity provision: cities are prioritised for supply, and the villages are often left in the dark, or reliant on expensive and polluting fuels such as diesel and kerosene. It’s a bias inherent to a centralised model of electricity generation and distribution, and is particularly pronounced in Bihar, where the peak power shortage is over 30%.
As DRE systems can be managed by the communities they serve, they have the potential to give rural communities reliable access to power when and where they need it. Let’s not forget energy services are not just for lighting, but for water pumping, telecommunication, refrigerating vaccines and a myriad other uses. A regular and reliable energy supply is intricately connected to social and economic development.
The Urja Kranti Kendra's a globetrotter. Before its voyage to India, it was known as the Climate Rescue Station, and has travelled the world with its six solar panels and three small wind turbines (a 4kW total generating capacity). In developed countries, it draws the connection between fossil fuels and climate change and calls for a switch in energy infrastructure to one of clean and sustainable power sources.
In developing countries, where the energy infrastructure is still not entirely in place, it demonstrates the path we could take: energy generation built around renewable resources will not just mitigate deadly climate change, but can also ensure national energy security for the future, in a time when the global supplies of fossil fuels are running low.
The Kendra’s first stand was two years ago, in the depths of the “Black Triangle:” the heart of lignite coal mining in Europe; a huge area spread across Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Then, the dome perched on the brink of a massive mine that stretched almost to the horizon, a last bastion on the fields of a local farmer who had chosen to fight the submission of his ancestral lands to the mine's clawing mechanical diggers. It became a hub for the anti-coal movement in the area, and a platform for demonstrating renewable energy alternatives.
As COP14, the UN 2008 conference on climate change in nearby Poznan, drew near, the campaign moved with the Kendra from the coal belt to the main square of the city. There it became the stage for the Britten Sinfonia, the celebrated chamber orchestra, to perform a concert for COP delegates and the public. Two years later, it was also in the centre of the action at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen for COP15, and has stood with numerous activists in the time between.
Now in Patna, the Kendra’s gleaming solar panels sit in front of the crumbling colonial buildings of the A.N. Sinha Institute for Social Sciences in the centre of town. There is less potential for wind power in Bihar, but the state’s strong, clear sunlight is powering lights, speaker systems, and a projector. The Kendra’s installation coincides with the publication of political parties’ manifestos ahead of this week’s Assembly elections in Bihar, and every one apart from that of the Congress party has mentioned the part renewable energy has to play in Bihar’s future.
“Everyone attending the inauguration appreciated the political consensus on renewable energy that has appeared from these manifestos,” says Ramapati Kumar, lead campaigner on climate and energy in Bihar. “There’s now a need to push education and awareness on DRE, and to create a system which allows people to access information on what energy solutions exist for their needs.”
“The Urja Kranti Kendra stands here as a platform for all the voices, in addition to ours, that have been calling for decentralised renewable energy in Bihar. The excitement present in the party maifestos now needs to be translated to action by the new government, whom ever that may be.”