July 7, 2004
Alternative Energy: Navadarshanam's Plan for 2004
As in other areas, Navadarshanam’s work in alternative energy is based on the premise that existing trends based on the prevalent notions of ‘development’ are not sustainable, and the world will soon be looking for alternatives that are eco-friendly and decentralized.
In the area of energy, our guiding principle has been to be independent of the State grid, for electricity so generated:
• Is ecologically destructive, irrespective of whether it is hydel, thermal or nuclear.
• Is highly centralized, with the user always at the mercy of the powers that be.
• Leads to immense corruption, especially in the rural areas, where heavy bribing is the norm to get a connection. Power being almost free for farmers, it also leads to reckless exploitation of ground water by the farmer who wants to recover the heavy costs he initially incurred.
For the first five years (1990-95), at Navadarshanam we managed with candles and lanterns. Water was hauled up from the open well by hand, and carted in pitchers to the huts that are at a considerable height and distance from the well.
In 1995, we installed a 1064 watts peak output solar panel along with a submersible pump capable of delivering 3,200 liters of water per hour at 50 meters total head. We added three 130 amp-hr batteries to the system, and the circuitry was so designed that when pumping was not being carried out, the panels charged the batteries, enabling us to use 11/15-watt CFL bulbs for lighting.
In 1998, to augment the availability of power for grinding our health food items and also for pumping water needed for our vegetable and fruit saplings, we added one more set of 860 watts peak output solar panels along with a floating DC pump to deliver unto 12,000 liters per hour of water from the open well. A bank of 6 batteries was also added to power the grinder.
For cooking food, we started by making use of a smokeless chulla and a solar cooker. We have also been gifted a parabolic solar cooker using aluminum foils. In addition, we make regular use of the Mullick cooker, a charcoal-based steam cooker for which we make our own charcoal using the dead wood from the land.
In 2003, we constructed a 3-cu.m/day Deenabandhu gobar gas plant, which uses 65 kg. of cow dung per day and gives us enough gas to meet our cooking needs, making us independent of the LPG connection. In addition, we get approximately 11 tons of compost every year, which helps to improve yields and to regenerate the soil.
Our quest for fresh options for renewable sources of energy stems from the following considerations:
• The number of visitors to Navadarshanam—individuals and groups, including students, executives, farmers and others—has increased considerably. They invariably show much interest in our technology options especially in the field of energy.
• The Navadarshanam Health Foods program is catching on. In Jaynagar and Malleshwaram we carry out monthly sales. In some housing complexes residents are organizing stocking and sales for their members. As people become more conscious of health hazards, they are looking for real organic produce, which we are able to provide. This means that we need to grow more food grains, fruits, groundnuts, turmeric, chili etc. on our own land.
• A large stone-lined open well—6 meters diameter, 9.3 meters deep—has been built by us in 2003 near the stream at the lowest point on our land with plenty of water in it. The electric fence has been extended to include over two acres of fertile land for farming. Also, with a total of 20 heads of cattle, we are now able to add another 3 cubic meters per day gobar gas plant and obtain another 11 tons of compost per annum.
• Our experience with charge controllers, inverters and other electronic gadgets has been far from satisfactory. We are now looking at simpler technology that the villager can easily use and maintain.
These considerations have led us to choose the following options:
• WIND-POWER: an AV55 windmill with a rotor dia of 5.7 meters, designed to operate at an average wind speed of 3 – 5 m/s will be procured from “Aureka”, Auroville. It can pump 1,500 l/h of water at 50 m head at an average wind speed of 5 m/s. An over-ground storage tank of adequate capacity will be constructed to store water for the farming operations. The overall cost of this project is estimated to be Rs. 2 lacs.
• GOBAR-GAS/ HONGE OIL RUN DIESEL ENGINE: a 6.5 HP diesel engine coupled to a 4 kva alternator is to be procured. It can be run by a mixture of 80% gobar gas and 20% honge oil or, alternatively, by honge oil alone. Honge oil, after etherification, is also called bio-diesel. This oil is obtained by crushing the seeds of the wild and hardy honge tree of which we have a large number on our land and which we can easily multiply in the neighboring forest as well, since cattle do not graze it. The oil cake left after the oil has been extracted is very good for replenishing the soil. Scientists from the I.I.Sc. and some ecologist friends are promoting this technology in a concerted fashion, and we can become a nodal agency for their pioneering work. Additionally, a 2 HP 220 volt monoblock open well submersible pump will be ordered for pumping out water from the new well for farming. Another over-ground storage tank will be built for watering the fruit, vegetable and grain fields. This project, including the construction of a second gobar gas plant, is estimated to cost Rs. 1 lac.
Besides meeting our energy needs, the above options are eco-friendly, simple and easy to replicate by farmers and panchayats. Therefore, we intend to give both these projects high priority and, funds permitting, aim at completing them by Dec. 2004.
Augmenting Eco-Restoration Work at Navadarshanam
Navadarshanam is a Public Charitable Trust wherein eco-restoration work has been carried out for the last 13 years. As a result of the work done by this Trust, much of the 115 acres of degraded land is being converted into a natural forest. Where there were only three trees, more than 20,000 trees have made their appearance. As a result, soil conditions have improved dramatically and water table has improved. Many medicinal plants have appeared on their own. A wide variety of birds have made it their home as also some deer, wild boars and other small animals.
But as more and more trees appear, there is also a temptation for some persons to come in and cut them. This is particularly applicable to the sandalwood trees that are making their appearance in very large numbers – at least 5,000. The Trust has erected a barbed wire fence to protect these trees, but this fence is getting breached every time an elephant passes through the land – and elephants are a frequent phenomenon here. Once the elephant has passed through and the fence is breached, it is very easy for the poachers to do their work.
On one-fourth of this land—primarily the part used for living and farming—an electric fence operated by solar power has been erected some five years ago, to deal with this problem effectively. This electric fence is powered by a single 12-volt battery—charged by solar panels--with a fence energiser for the battery power to be converted into high-voltage, low-amperage pulses. Because of the high voltage, the elephant feels a jolt whenever it comes in contact with this fence, but because the amperage is very low (only a few mili-amps), the current passing through its body does it no harm. So, this is a very non-violent way of keeping the elephant from doing damage to the fence.
The Trust now needs to extend this fence to the rest of the land so that the eco-restoration process may continue unhampered. As the total costs of doing so are very high, the Trust has consulted experts in this field, who have suggested a combination of barbed and electric fencing all along the outer periphery of about 3.5 kilometers in such a way that minimum amount of electric fencing is required. But the cost of even this less expensive version is estimated to be around Rs.2 lakhs. The Trust is on the lookout for donations from charitable organizations interested in supporting this effort at eco-restoration.