Dharnai, Bihar — Times are changing. No longer do women in Dharnai rush to get dinner ready before dark. No longer do men wrap up the day’s work by dusk or check if they have packed their torches when leaving the house at night.
Why? Because after 30 years of darkness, the lights are on! The recent electrification project, coordinated by Greenpeace India with the aim of empowering people with access to decentralized renewable energy, has made the lanes of Dharnai the hub of community interaction after the sun goes down.
Located on National Highway 83, Dharnai revenue village, in Makhdumpur block, Jehanabad district, Bihar, is the talk of the state as locals strut around their very own solar-powered microgrid system that has connected almost all houses within the 2 km stretch of the village. Soon there is going to be an official inauguration and the residents are excited, taking turns to spread the word.
About 80 km from the state capital Patna, and on the Patna-Gaya highway (NH 83), Dharnai is well-connected. There is even a railway station inside the village, Barabar Halt, that locals use for commuting to and from urban centers nearby. Autos ply on NH 83 between Dharnai and more urbanized centers like Makhdumpur and Belaganj. Dharnai is close to the Barabar Caves, a historic landmark, while Bodh Gaya, where international tourists gather is 45 km away.
Well-connected, and now powered up by the decentralized solar-powered microgrid, the economic and commercial opportunities in Dharnai have multiplied. To maintain quality and production, villagers are taking charge to manage and monitor the system that has been providing electric supply on a trial basis since March 2014. It is common to find village elders and leaders joining operators of the system to talk about expansion and capacity building at the main office complex after the lights are on.
On the commercial stretch of NH 83, business has boomed in the past few months. The daily income of vendors has shot up as more people come out after sunset, to shop in leisure. Especially during summer, when the heat reduces customer footfalls during the day, vendors and merchants can count on traffic in the evening since the street, and the area in general, are all lit by the solar-powered microgrid.
Where 30 years went by without much progress, three months of installation and electricity generation through the decentralized renewable energy model has energized a whole population that would have otherwise remained in the dark.