Keonjhar: Sun is the most important source of energy for us all. It is in fact the primary source of most of the other energies found on earth. The advancement of technologies has made it possible for us to extract sunlight for producing electricity using solar (photovoltaic) cells. The universal access to solar energy has also extended the reach of electricity, as with the help of solar cells, electricity can be created at every place which has access to sunlight. This has proved as a boon for particularly rural and remote areas which still suffer from little or no access to electricity.
In Keonjhar district of Odisha, every day when the sun sets, the life in rural villages comes to a standstill. With no proper streetlights in the villages, all the daily activities, after dusk, were severely limited. There seemed no point in creating an infrastructure for streetlights in a situation where the rural households were facing issues with the erratic power supply.
However, the district administration of Keonjhar with support of the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) conceptualised a unique and novel project of installing 11000 solar-based streetlights in all the 473 mining-affected villages of the district, covering 7 blocks namely Banspal, Champua, Harichandanpur, Hatadihi, Jhumpura, Joda and Sadar. The best part of these solar-based streetlights is that they are not dependent on electricity, rather they use sunlight as the source of power.
Each solar-based streetlight consists of Solar Photovoltaic Modules (Solar Panels), Energy-efficient LEDs, Lithium Ferro Phosphate Batteries, Control electronics, module mounting pole and other installations. The solar panels take energy from the sun and charge the battery during the day. This battery then powers the luminary after sunset.
Many locals were sceptical that the life of these solar streetlights is limited, and such lights do not run for the entire night. But these streetlights use energy-efficient LEDs and state-of-the-art Lithium Ferro Phosphate batteries for high illuminance and long life. Another interesting feature of these streetlights are that they are equipped with motion sensor. So, in case of any movement, the sensor senses the movement and glows to full level. Then it returns to lower level after a while, when there is no movement. So, it conserves its own energy smartly.
Implemented at a cost of about ₹ 25 crores under DMF, the impact can be seen in 473 villages covering more than 5 lakh people. The project, referred to as DMF Solar Street Lights, has transformed the way people conduct their daily lives in the rural villages. There is an enhanced sense of safety and security in these villages, as generally there are less crime-related incidents when the areas are illuminated with proper light.
The villagers have acknowledged that earlier various small activities were not possible like praying at a temple late after dark, studying in a group together, fetching water from a community point, etc. However, with the installation of solar-based streetlights, the time span for these activities have increased with enhanced safety.
The children in the villages are the immediate beneficiaries of the project, as the erratic power cuts adversely affected their studies. Now, many children in these villages study together in a group under these streetlightswhich are independent of the power cuts.
There are villages which now conduct their community meetings after dark, which was not very convenient earlier. These meetings interestingly are catching larger audience as it is being realised that the people who went out for work during day, generally couldn’t attend any such meetings. But now it is possible for many such people to attend their community meeting, as it happens in the night. The solar based streetlights have extended socio-economic, educational and recreational activities in the mining affected villages.
With the advancement of technology, we have seen major transformations around the world. However, these changes that has occurred in the lives of the people living in rural areas, are to be understood as the best use case of technology – something that is practical, relevant and can be replicated across different remote and rural areas.