People stand on the roof of a submerged house as they wait to be rescued in Patna, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. (Photo credit Getty Images)
Recently, deadly floods ravaged India and South Asia, and powerful storms in United States knocked out power to millions. But when people’s lives are thrown into chaos by devastating natural disaster, using alternative energy source may not seem like an obvious response. However, since energy grids are often the first to fail when a disaster hits, and outages hamper recovery efforts, energy entrepreneurs believe that off-grid renewable energy could provide an instant source of power to those who need it most.
“After a natural disaster hits, it can take weeks or longer for power to be restored and the expense of repairing transmission lines can be very high. Solar and battery mini-grids are a more resilient solution, as it allows local and remote communities to regain access to power, clean drinking water, medical facilities and communications immediately,” says William Brent, director of Power For All, a coalition of 200 public and private organizations campaigning to deliver universal energy access by 2030.
“Also, in the case of renewable mini-grids, the fuel — the Sun— is local, unlike diesel generators, which are subject to disruption in fuel supply because of a disaster,” says Brent
In August, Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, faced its worst flooding in decades, affecting 13 million people. With uncertainty about the availability of grid power, renewable energy mini-grids — Tara Urja and Desi Power — stepped up to provide back-up power and assist with relief operations in eight villages. Tara Urja and Desi Power are private energy service companies working with the Smart Power India, an initiative funded by Rockefeller Foundation to help scale mini-grids in India.
“In Bihar, mini-grids and battery energy ensured relief operation was not hampered due to power outages, and the affected villages were not plunged into darkness by night,” says Mukesh Khandelwal, COO of Tara Urja. “Our electricians maintained a round-the-clock watch during the peak days of flooding to make sure that the village-level office received electricity through a feeder line to coordinate relief operations,” adds Khandelwal.
In Araria, a village in Bihar that was under three feet of water, Desi Power provided over 16,000 people to power a range of standard appliances. “Even when villages were submerged and grid connectivity was off, we also had to shut down the grid, but the plant was kept open to help people access essential services such as charging mobile phones and solar lantern from our battery backup,” says Kunal Amitav, COO for Desi Power. “The plant area was opened up to provide shelter to people, as it was on a slightly higher ground,” adds Amitav