Will Irumbai Be India's First Solar-powered Village?
TerraGreen|November 2020
Rural electrification challenges in India are many. In this article, Anita Khuller discusses how Irumbai, a village in Tamil Nadu, is striving to become India’ first fully solar-powered village. She highlights how this can work as a model towards realizing the dream of lighting up rural India.
Anita Khuller

Irumbai, a village in Villupuram district in Tamil Nadu, is on its way to becoming India’s first fully solarpowered village. Located between Auroville and Tindivanam highway, this village promises to be a boon for people living in rural areas who continue to face the brunt of lack of reliable electricity, power shortages, inadequate healthcare facilities, low-literacy rates, and poor levels of agricultural and industrial productivity. These are also some of the reasons that lead to migration, compelling rural inhabitants to search for work in cities.

Solar to the Rescue

In villages, there is an increased use of traditional energy sources, such as firewood and cow-dung cakes, which pose health risks and have environmental repercussions.

To combat electricity woes, a proposal to equip Irumbai village with solar power was given by Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA) through the Tamil Nadu Innovation Initiatives (TANII) programme, which is administered by the State Planning Commission. Auroville Consulting (AVC), a unit of the non-profit organization— Auroville Foundation, conceived the idea and supported TEDA in the development of the detailed project report (DPR), which was submitted in 2014.

TEDA, Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO), and the local panchayat had earlier conducted a survey to inspect the local distribution network and define suitable interconnection points for the solar plant. Later, TEDA and AVC audited Irumbai and collected various energy-related data, including the consumption rate, consumption pattern, and growth rate of population and energy needs. Multiple meetings were held with the villagers, schools, and local colleges. Based on the collected data and taking into account the assumed consumption for five years with possible surplus power export, the required capacity of the proposed solar plant was deemed to be 170 kW as per the DPR.

Currently, the high-tension feeder supplying electricity to Irumbai village is classified as a rural feeder. However, for a village to generate and run on solar power and to feed excess power to the grid, there must be continuous power supply. To execute this plan, once the Irumbai Solar Village project is completed, the feeder supplying electricity to the village will be categorized as an urban feeder to ensure uninterrupted power supply, so that surplus production can be metered.

The state government, through an order dated October 30, 2015, sanctioned a pilot project for the installation of the 170-kW grid-connected solar power plant in Irumbai for an uninterrupted electricity scheme under its State Innovation Fund, which also included a study of the socio-economic impact of energy conservation, besides creating awareness on sustainable and renewable energy.

The ground-mounted solar farm requires about 1700 m 2 . But the land available is about 2.5 acres of grazing land, so the NOC for land utilization is for the entire 2.5 acres in case there is future expansion of the solar PV capacity.

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