Students in the village of Tahipur in Bihar used kerosene lanterns for studying.
When we hear the word innovation, we often think of new technologies or silver bullet solutions — like hydrogen fuel cells or a cure for cancer. To be sure, breakthroughs are vital: antibiotics and vaccines, for example, transformed global health. But as we’ve argued in Fixes, some of the greatest advances come from taking old ideas or technologies and making them accessible to millions of people who are underserved.
One area where this is desperately needed is access to electricity. In the age of the iPad, it’s easy to forget that roughly a quarter of the world’s population — about a billion and a half people (pdf) — still lack electricity. This isn’t just an inconvenience; it takes a severe toll on economic life, education and health. It’s estimated that two million people die prematurely each year as a result of pulmonary diseases caused by the indoor burning of fuels for cooking and light. Close to half are children who die of pneumonia.
In vast stretches of the developing world, after the sun sets, everything goes dark. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 70 percent of the population lack electricity. However, no country has more citizens living without power than India, where more than 400 million people, the vast majority of them villagers, have no electricity. The place that remains most in darkness is Bihar, India’s poorest state, which has more than 80 million people, 85 percent of whom live in households with no grid connection. Because Bihar has nowhere near the capacity to meet its current power demands, even those few with connections receive electricity sporadically and often at odd hours, like between 3:00 a.m and 6:00 a.m., when it is of little use.
This is why I’m writing today about a small but fast-growing off-grid electricity company based in Bihar called Husk Power Systems. It has created a system to turn rice husks into electricity that is reliable, eco-friendly and affordable for families that can spend only $2 a month for power. The company has 65 power units that serve a total of 30,000 households and is currently installing new systems at the rate of two to three per week.
Bringing sustainable light to communities off the grid