Community cold storage and power supply for off-grid rural areas

To understand the importance of power supply one must visit an electrified, and an un-electrified village. In most of the electrified villages one would see hanging power lines, towers etc, but with no electricity inside hutment or houses. The reason is: usual long haul of load shedding/erratic supply, along with deteriorated power quality. All of this won't be present any way in an un-electrified village and one can visually examine the difference of economic level of residents.

To add to the misery, another problem present in villages that affects rural income generation is wastage of horticulture produce after harvesting due to unavailability or un-accessibility of cold storages in and around rural settlement. Although cold storages of sizes like 100TR and above are quite prevalent in semi urban areas, anything less than that becomes commercially unviable and hence there are not many takers for it. Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MOFPI) has a program to promote cold storages, along with one program for setting-up cold storage units at the farm gate level. MOFPI acknowledged unavailability of cold storages as one of the deficiencies in the supply chain of perishable goods.

Many studies emphasize the requirement of village electrification and link it to higher economic prosperity of the local people. However, in order to do so it is also important to target the existing economic activities in the villages and focus on how to make them more profitable. The principal economic activity is agriculture. The produce in many places where cold storage facility is not available is either sold off early at lower than competitive price in the market or is decayed due to lack of storage facilities. There have been many real cases where the market at a particular time has gotten flooded with the horticulture produce and the prices plummeted leading to loss at the farmer's end.

The two reasons why not many cold storages are promoted or established at farm gate level are because of lack of profitability or due to unavailability of electricity to run cold storages. However, in reality not insufficient studies have been done so far so as to establish this fact. Hence, with this back ground and to substantiate it TERI conducted a research which not only establishes a valid link between electricity supply and presence of cold storages, but also tries to delve further in order to evolve a business plan which can directly benefit the community.

TERI's initiativeThe Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, India) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO, Australia) with the support from Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) has conducted a collaborative research which aimed at providing both electricity and small scale cold storage for a typical Indian rural village application.

The research project comprises a 50kWe advanced biomass gasifier power generation system and the cold Storage of 12MT storage capacity. The biomass gasifier which was designed and commissioned by TERI produces synthesis gas using locally available woody biomass, which is then used to run an engine-generator to produce electricity. The electricity produced is quality controlled at 50 Hz frequency and 3-phase supply. This electricity is used to run the cold storage and the balance electricity is supplied to 140 households spread over two villages with every household eligible to use 150W of electrical load, which can be expanded or changed based on an individual user's need or community requirement. The distribution system installed to supply electricity in both the villages conforms to all technical specifications and safety features as per REC standards. LED based streetlights are installed with dimming and movement actuated features in order to save electricity.

Power monitoring is done at generation and household level to prevent pilferage of electricity. The metering of electricity is done through an advanced and smart prepaid metering system. The metering system consists of differential prepaid electricity billing for all consumers and displays different parameters like balance amount, electricity usage, load etc. Another important feature embedded in the metering system is about monitoring the electricity consumption of an individual household while regulating its load limit, such that usage beyond its load limit will lead to disconnection of the supply.

The project is run by a "Village Energy Committee" or VEC which owns, regulates and maintains the whole system. The committee consists of eight members elected by the village community. The committee has representatives from the village panchayat, village community and a local NGO. Care has been taken to have fair representation of women, with three female members being elected to the village committee. Regular training is given to the VEC in order to make them aware such that they can control the operation of the system.

The village chosen for this research project is based on many criteria: being un-electrified village, community interest, cold storage requirement - to name a few. The cold storage which is central to the project can be chilled to 0C; hence, a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other horticulture produce can be stored. To add further, this research project was designed to implement in the real field condition only after testing on a similar project installed by TERI-CSIRO consortium in Solar Energy Centre, Gurgaon (MNRE) which was capable of running on Vapor Absorption Machine (VAM) coupled with a 50kWe Biomass Gasifier system and a field of solar concentrating collectors.

The project has helped in overall development of the village through providing electricity and cold storage facility. It has also made impacts on socio-economic development of the community. Besides providing electricity reducing the burning of kerosene for lighting, helped the children by providing electricity increasing their hours of study, it has helped in improving the quality of life of the villagers. The community has been mobilized and has come-up with new ideas and requirements not only around electrification but also the cold storage such that additional activities can be done for example, to store milk.