An Ecologically Sustainable Transport Solution for the Sundarbans

Solar PV installation in Brojaballupur
The Sundarbans region, a cluster of 104 islands in the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta of which 52 are inhabited, comprises large parts of coastal West Bengal and Bangladesh, and is the largest tidal mangrove forest in the world. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Convention wetland, this biosphere reserve has unique flora and fauna which are highly endemic, including the Royal Bengal Tiger. Protecting this vulnerable ecosystem from toxic pollution is of paramount importance. TERI has thus undertaken a project to develop eco-friendly solar-based electric vehicles for public transport in the Sundarbans region in order to conserve the region's biodiversity.

In partnership with the Paris-based charitable trust Mlinda Foundation, TERI is working to develop 'smart' solar charging stations for electric rickshaws that replace the existing diesel rickshaws in the ecologically fragile region. At present, there are about 19,000 diesel rickshaws running here as a means of public transportation. These rickshaws emit large amounts of noxious fumes, including carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which are dangerous for the people as well as the rich but delicate biodiversity of the region. The soot particles released during diesel combustion also contribute to smog, which is a major health risk for the residents.

TERI and Mlinda Foundation are trying to demonstrate electric vehicles - charged through solar charging stations - for public transport as replicable solutions. TERI has been taken on board to share its technical expertise and come up with viable solutions which are economically and environmentally feasible. This intervention will help reduce the use of diesel, and not only protect the ecology from potential threats from fossil fuels but also help create awareness regarding renewable energy, which will reinforce efforts to protect the environment.

To implement the project, a baseline study has been carried out in the Brojaballupur Gram Panchayat of Pathar Pratima district of West Bengal. The study included examination of existing transport systems in the village, and how it was related to livelihood activities in the area.

The project will also encompass provision of lighting facilities at the household level through solar micro-grid systems, and setting up of a Renewable Energy Multi-Utility plant in the village marketplace, which will use multiple sources of renewable energy to fulfill the power requirements in the area. This plant will thus aid income generating activities in the region based on locally available resources. The Mlinda Foundation has a strong presence in the area.

The overall objective of the project is to preserve the rich biodiversity in the Sundarbans and to provide eco-friendly sources of livelihood for the region's residents. This will be done by replacing the existing fossil fuel-based locally created transport systems with clean electric vehicles, which are powered through solar energy, providing clean lighting solutions to households and schools, and providing clean energy-based livelihood solutions in the area.

The following tasks will be carried out under the project to meet the objectives:

  • Task I: Study the existing solar charging stations with electric vehicle options for public transport
  • Task II: Study the option for implementing smart metering and monitoring systems for solar charging stations
  • Task III: Study the relevance of solar multi-utility applications and solar electrification through mini-grids in the Brojaballupur Gram Panchayat of the Sundarbans
  • Task IV: Installation and commissioning of a Renewable Energy Multi-Utility plant (proposed)

The project will follow a lease-cum-ownership delivery model, where the entrepreneur will lease vehicles to the operators and will establish and run charging stations. Repair and maintenance costs will also be borne by the entrepreneur. Daily rent from operators, fee for charging the vehicles, and repair and maintenance fee would be the source of revenue for the entrepreneurs.

The project will not only facilitate environmentally benign solutions for public transport but will also bring in revenue to the local entrepreneur, and help restore the ecological magnificence of the Sundarbans through a sustainably replicable solution to the problem of pollution through harmful emissions in the region.

Sponsor(s): Mlinda foundation
Duration of the project: 3 months
Key Stakeholders/ Beneficiaries: Residents of the Sundarbans region
Geographic location of the Brojaballupur Gram Panchayat
Diesel run rickshaws for local transport
Posted on: 17 September 2013