An energy access project towards the sustainable
development of Indian Sundarbans.

Over 30 million Indians living in rural India do not have access to energy for their basic needs. They depend on forest resources such as fuel wood, twigs, dry leaves, as well as kerosene, agricultural waste and dung to meet their cooking, lighting and heating requirements. Many of these settlements are on the peripheries of important Protected Areas that are home to some of India’s rarest and endangered wildlife.

The Indian Sundarbans is a network of low lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, separated from one another and the mainland by interconnected tidal rivers, creeks, and canals. This isolation from each other and the mainland, as well as the rough terrain makes last mile connectivity a huge challenge. As a result, access to modern and reliable energy services still remains a challenge for forest fringe island parts of Sundarbans, and its population is riddled with poverty due to lack of opportunities. Of the 54 islands inhabited by humans in the Sundarbans, the southernmost island is the Satjelia Island, with approximately 8,293 households. The island shares a little over 22 km of its boundary with the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. Like most islands, Satjelia too is energy deficient. Despite all odds, conventional grid electricity has been extended to this island very recently, crossing over numerous rivers and creeks. However, the quality as well as affordability of conventional grid based electricity in the area remains a challenge. Furthermore, the Sundarbans landscape is prone to frequent and high intensity weather events like storm, tropical cyclone and flooding which puts the entire conventional electrical grid under risk. The standalone Solar PV systems/ micro grids are therefore a viable option for sustainable energy solutions for island based communities in Sundarbans.

Project Sahasra Jyoti, was initiated in 2016 by WWF-India, with the, aim of lighting up a thousand forest fringe households in the Indian Sundarbans through solar powered energy access solutions The Satjelia island was chosen as the pilot island for the solar project, among 46 other forest fringe villages The island now has 5 DC micro grids, with combined installed capacity of 56.18 kW powering more than 512 households, 8 public institutions and more than 50 streetlights on the forest fringe as a part of the project, being implemented in partnership with Schneider Electric India Foundation (SEIF). The microgrids are community-owned, operated and managed, directly benefitting more than 2000 men, women and children. 60% of these electrified households sit below the poverty line.

The micro grids provide grid quality electricity round the clock at affordable price to homes, some small businesses and rural institutions (schools, disaster relief shelter etc.) in remote forest fringe hamlets of the Indian Sundarbans. The energy systems have been planned, designed and installed in consultation with Village Energy Committees who manage and operate these systems. WWF-India has also transferred the ownership of all DC micro grids to the local gram panchayat, making this the first village in the region to successfully manage solar micro grids at a scale. These community-owned, managed and operated solar micro grid systems are helping forest fringe communities to move in the trajectory of sustainable development.

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