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Solar for my farm

 Dominick Rodrigues |  2016-01-03 20:17:12.0  |  New Delhi

Solar for my farm

The year 2016 is heralding a new era in India’s power and farming sectors as technology and users both gear up for harnessing the best towards progressive productivity. India is witnessing a “Green Energy Revolution” in the 16th new year of the Millennium and one such highlight is the “Solar Charkha” which is being introduced through the Khadi & Village Industries Commission, and will see the “Khadi” spinning wheel getting a makeover by functioning via solar power. With manual Charkhas limiting production, KVIC and other khadi-promoting institutions have recently developed wheels with more spindles that can run on solar power and Gujarat is likely to be the first state to successfully test these solar-powered wheels. 

The Khadi Prayog Samiti, Ahmedabad, Udhyog Bharti Trust, Gondal, Surat Engineering Vikas Association and Indo-German Tool Room are conducting the tests. The KVIC and Gangdhigram Urja Vikas Sanstha, an Amravati-based NGO, designed the spinning wheel in collaboration with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Industrialisation, Wardha. 

Farmers also spend their time using charkhas to boost their income, alongside what they get from their crops – and can maintain subsistence from this alternative source of income, say KVIC sources. “However, the objective is to increase wages of spinners, since most khadi workers are women. The government wants to provide better returns to them, which is not possible with charkhas spun by 
hand,” said Arun Kumar Jha, chief executive officer, KVIC.

Khadi institutions provide employment to about one million artisans but their earning are meagre. A spinner earns Rs 250 a day for eight hours of work on a hand-spun wheel, but test results show that solar-powered wheels can produce four times more. Conventional wheels hold 3-8 spindles of khadi, which produces 25 hanks of yarn in eight hours. Solar-powered spinning wheels can hold 36 spindles to produce 100 hanks in the same time. The Udhyog Bharti Trust is starting a trial run with 15 spinning wheels of 10-24 spindles that cost Rs 35,000-40,000 each. “We have a production facility at Gondal to test the results. We will study the wheels for a year and make changes in the design,” according to Chandrakant Patel, Udyog Bharti Trust, which is the largest producer of hand-spun charkhas in India at 600 a month. Gujarat produces 25,000 charkhas annually to feed the nationwide demand. A solar-powered spinning wheel costs anywhere between Rs 30,000-100,000 – depending on the number of spindles  that can range between 16  and 36 spindles – while a hand-spun wheel charkha costs Rs 13,500. “Developers of solar-powered charkhas are working at reducing the cost,” according to Sanjay Hedaoo, director, KVIC Gujarat.

Solar panels for electricity use wherever possible including housing and industry is the new target for India. “We are training people from all walks of life to enter the solar power industry through our MSME “Entreneurship Development on Solar Energy” and so far, 600 people have been trained in the last three months itself as part of this ongoing initiative which started barely six months ago in 2015,” Y K Baramatikar, deputy chief executive officer, KVIC, Western Region, told Millennium Post. “The government is also supporting this initiative for these trainees through its Prime Minister Employment Generation Programme, while we maintain feedback and support through email, letter and whatsapp. The Central government has a solar pump policy for farmers and agricultural support growth through use of solar panels, groundwater pools, vegetable cash crops etc.”

The rural manufacturing sector is keenly eyeing the use of solar panels, alongside grid-supply for their production needs which includes tractors for farming. Joseph Dsouza of Alf Engineering, Nasik whose Rs 1,000 crore turnover plant manufactures chassis and other products for various vehicle companies including Mahindra and Leyland, Nissan, said his Nasik ALF plant two benefitted from installing solar panels of 100KW with power generation of approximately 460 units daily and which had generated maximum 540 units within the last four months, besides one solar unit of 50KW generating 260 units electricity daily in their Zahirabad plant in Telengana. “Instead of battery backup, we have connected the solar plant directly to the grid so that the vehicle chassis production section uses both solar power with extra backup from the MSEB power supply,” he said, adding that in a reality where Rs 500 to Rs 700 crore is required to develop a vehicle on a new platform and life of any vehicle being 10 years, feeding their supply market needed constant power supply, “Bearing this in mind, we are planning to go majorly solar in future as part of our green and sustainable development plan,” he added.

However, maintaining different power sources through adequate cabling is greatly necessary because in-depth study of power use at various sites is not considered today, noted Girish Babu B.K. (Technical lead-Siemon, India,) while narrating the case of a Tidal Power company in Chennai whose electrical feeders were submerged in water during the recent floods that swept the city amidst heavy rainfall.”The cabling market in India is worth about Rs 1,600 crores and cabling systems register a 20-25 per cent power variation which can be reduced to barely five per cent through Siemon systems. Today operational costs can be reduced drastically, though IT teams need to work together to upgrade these DCs to global standards in power aspects, security etc.”

Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers Ltd (RCF)  is poised for growth in expansion in its “Make in India” agenda, said its CMD R G Rajan, while noting that RCF signed an MOU with GAIL and Coal India Limited to take up the revival project at Talcher unit of FCIL costing Rs 9,000 crores – a project of strategic importance for India as it aims at a breakthrough for alternative source of feedstock in the form of abundantly-available coal from domestic sources in place of natural gas, besides providing much-needed fertiliser for farmers, particularly in Eastern India. RCF is implementing Energy Conservation projects by investing Rs 800 crores at its Trombay and Thal Units, besides exploring possibility of setting up Potassic and Phosphatic plants abroad, Rajan said. “With transfer of agriculture information facing tough challenge in India due to heterogeneity of farming population and variety of crops grown under varied agro-climatic conditions, RCF is helping India’s farmers use advanced agricultural practices- and optimising farm productivity soil diagnostics – through training centres in which over 22,000 farmers benefitted so far, he added.

Meanwhile, the Internet portals of India are joining the thrust towards lending the farming community a helping hand, alongside benefitting themselves. One such website is: Ugaoo.com set up as a unique one-stop destination for all green needs by Namdeo Umaji Agritech – a 130 year old company. 

“Urban population focusing on farming and are even exchanging their home-grown greens while going organic for a healthier lifestyle,” Siddhant Bhalinge, Founder – Ugaoo.com, said, adding “Ugaoo focused on professional gardeners, horticulturists, architects, landscape architects, interior decorators, urban farmers, hobby gardeners, plant lovers to the rural large scale farming community through sale of related equipment and informative discussions based on topics related to gardening and farming. According to Food Agriculture Organisation (FOA), India is home to 11 per cent arable land of the world. Currently, the gardening market in India is approximately Rs 5000 Crores, which is much lower when compared to other economies like China. This presents a huge opportunity which can be tapped to make India Greener.Ugaoo.com has been selected as the world’s top 40 most promising start ups in 2016 by WebSummit, world’s largest tech conference.”

Another new portal – DestaGlobal – is focusing on increasing the income of farmers by 10 per cent while offering free services to them. Mohnish Sharma, CEO of Desta Global, said this included two online properties; DestaMart, an online B2B eCommerce portal for agricultural products & DestaTalk, a free online web mobile portal providing farmers needy information on agriculture and agri-business. “The goal is to empower farmers to make wise business decisions. With Desta Mart, we provide farmers with required products – such as organic manures, PGRs and even solar lamps – at the right time. We will list products – that help farmer increase output – and which includes; field-crop and vegetable seeds,  plant nutrition and protection products, farm implements, irrigation products and  animal husbandry products.” 

“DestaLabs online portal will host a curated list of farming-related innovation and provide a link between innovation providers (researchers and innovators) in India and abroad, and farmers in rural India. While we are giving farmers access to product/agri info and giving access to products via DestaMart, the farmer still does not have direct access to agri-related services, but has to depend on luck or word-of-mouth to get access to services he needs. So we propose to build a services directory, where service providers will be able to list their services (geo-tagged) for free/fee. The farmers would then be able to search for services based on issue/crop/etc.,” he said. 

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