MinVayu – ORSED project : The first assessment

For my first visit in Kanyakumari district, I was with Sundar, a social development expert at ORSED, and we stayed together in Aralvaimozhi for the assessment, in the house of Neela and his family, who I would like to give a very warm thank-you for their very warm welcome.

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Vishnu before going to school – Neela’s son

This article presents the progress in the market assessment, especially the different objectives according to the current situation, noticed with some primary data obtained during several discussions with farmers, and the precise region of interest.

Objectives

Replace old diesel water pumps with wind-electric water pumping systems to protect the environment and reduce the annual farmers’ water-pumping cost (1), provide a better electricity access (2) in the village and help them to access basic electrical appliances such as water-purifying devices (3), which we would like to implement in order to reduce some disease risks due to coliform bacteria and pesticides… These three axes constitute the main objectives for the project in the Southern Tamil Nadu.

1. Replace old diesel water pumps with wind-electric water pumping systems

Very often we remarked that the electrical grid is really close to the banana or paddy crops, even in some places we saw transmission towers into these fields, but farmers still use diesel generators to pump the water during the dry season (see graph below) while they could use the electricity just over their heads… The question is why do they need diesel generator if the grid comes to the field?

The answer is quiet simple: there is no electricity within the grid, at least mere three, four or five hours of power per day and mostly at night time. By law, the Indian government has to provide free electricity to the farmers and is officially supporting the farms through numerous subsidies… but in the reality, this is really different. For the “lucky” farmers, the place is already electrified but they have no power most of the time. The others, i.e. most of the farmers, are still waiting to be relied to the grid, which would take a very long time and, most importantly, would be very costly.

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A water pump in banana fields

The Indian government is also subsidising the diesel but the cost remains expansive for the farmers. Our solution is to install wind, solar or hybrid systems, depending on the precise location, to replace these old polluting diesel pumps.

How to convince a farmer to pay, even a little, for such systems if he knows that the government should provide him free electricity access?

The mandatory requirement should be that the new system has to be cheaper than the diesel pump running costs, including installation and maintenance costs. To check this requirement, we first need to have precise data on the average annual expenditures for the diesel water pumping systems.

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Diesel generator protected from the rain with wood plank and banana leafs

Obviously this budget would not be the same for each farmer mostly because they are facing different constraints such as the depth of the water that is not constant, the generator that could be more or less efficient, etc. Therefore, the cost of each installations should be unique because of proper constraints and individual budget.

What would think a farmer if he has to pay more for a similar system than his neighbour? We should pay attention to equalised the price, which could be done through a community pricing system that has to be precisely determined. 

2. Provide a better electricity access

As we said before, the Government of India has to provide electricity to the farmers that represent approximately 119 millions Indian people according to the census 2011, without including the family of each farmer that would finally represent three or four times this number. Now, can someone explain to us how a government can provide free electricity to 400 millions people? Especially when this one is buying the electricity to private companies? I think, and I guess that you are thinking the same also, that this is not possible, even in the best of worlds. The only solution for the government to “fulfil” its obligations is to delay the grid expansion and to power the small electrified villages grid only three or four hours per day…

We are able to create small electricity production unit in farms and in the villages around, we would be able to provide them 24/24 electricity, the problem is how to finance these systems? Most of the farmers cannot afford directly this kind of necessary “luxury” for their development and that is why any company is trying to invest in this huge potential market… the risk of no-repayment is very high and of course this last one represents also an important constraint for the project that we are developing. Thus, the key to provide a better electricity access is to find a sustainable social financial system mainly by giving incentives to the farmers… a water purification system ?

3. Install water purification systems

Instead, install water purification systems could give them an incentive to pay for an electricity access because they will pay for something they can identify in the daily life, i.e. that they will pay for a recipient of purified water and then indirectly pay for the electricity. Firstly, this system will reduce different disease risks and could be a first step before they fully realise the different opportunities given by a constant electricity access: fridge, light, fans, TV, internet, etc.

The precise region of interest

Due to some confidentiality about the project, I cannot say the exact name of each place that we’ve visited. However, I’ve created an high resolution map for the project that give the frame of the covered region. Each case represents an area with proper wind and solar ressources. To be precise, I have found different meteorological hourly data from 2002 to 2011 for 81 GPS zone (from A1 to I9) and 100 GPS coordinates. These data will allow us to determine what is the best solution at a macro level between wind, solar or hybrid systems according to the available renewable energy ressources and their intermittency. The analysis is in progress.

High resolution map of the covered areas

High resolution map of the covered areas

Finally, this kind of project reveals how it is important to have a good understanding of the climate in the region, especially in terms of wind ressources, solar ressources and, last but not least, water ressources. Fortunately, ORSED has a great expertise in meteorology forecasting as well as social expertise and its experience about climate studies in Tamil Nadu is necessary and very helpful for the analysis. Basically, the state has three distinct seasons:

  • The dry season from January to May
  • The South West monsoon: moderate rainfall with strong southwest winds – from June to September
  • The North East monsoon: Important rainfall with dominant northeast winds – from October to December
Monthly average rainfalls (2004-2010) - Kanyakumari district

Monthly average rainfalls (2004-2010) – Kanyakumari district (source: India Meteorological Department – IMD)

To conclude, the climate is changing and seasons are not identical from one year to the next one. Indeed, you can observe on the graph above that the separation between season is not so clear over the average of the 2004-2010 period. That leads to an higher degree of uncertainty that complicates forecasting in the one hand but also exposes farmers to an higher risks of losses in the other hand, especially for those who don’t have water pumps, and the aim of our social project is also to bring different answers for these issues.

Me with "rich" farmers

We’ve visited different farmers, these ones were rich and offered me (too much) coconut juice (see T-shirt)

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