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Electricity has transformed life for all, including Jitendra (above)

Electricity has transformed life for all, including Jitendra (above)

Jitendra Dubey lives in a remote village in India whose name, Tamkuha, means “fog of darkness”. Three years ago, the darkness lifted. A simple method that uses rice husks to fuel an electricity generator has transformed Tamkuha, and many other villages like it that were not connected to the grid.

The arrival of electricity in Tamkuha allowed villagers to work productively after sunset for the first time. Children could study for longer instead of having to go to bed when the kerosene lamp died down. Shopkeepers could stay open later. Televisions arrived and mobile phones multiplied. New shops set up, creating jobs.

Looking to the future

Jitendra’s life has also been transformed. From running a small tea-shop that was barely able to support his family, he now earns far more operating the mini-power plant.

“Until we had electricity life in the village was very limited,” said the 25-year-old father-of-two. “Now there are more jobs, the children can improve their prospects, and everyone feels there is a future.”

Jitendra’s employers, Husk Power Systems, has installed generators in around 250 villages and plans to set them up in many more. The rice husks are heated to produce a gas that is then burned to power the generator. The current goes to homes via cables strung between bamboo poles. Consumers using the power pay door-to-door collectors.

Shell Foundation, an independent charity, has invested more than $1 million in Husk Power Systems under its Excelerate programme. This helps small businesses working to provide energy to the 1.4 billion people worldwide too poor or living in places too remote to have access to electricity.

“A lack of electricity prevents the world’s poorest people from breaking out of the poverty cycle.” said Chris West, Shell Foundation Director. “It limits employment and education opportunities.”

A decade of development

Rice husks fuel the generator that powers the village

Rice husks fuel the generator that powers the village

Shell Foundation supports ideas with the potential to grow to commercial scale and to succeed in a number of countries. Its programmes tackle poverty and environmental challenges. The charity has now published a detailed report  on its progress since setting up in 2000 with a $250 million endowment from Shell.

“Building sustainable enterprises that can effectively address global development challenges takes time, patience and considerable investment,” says the report. “More foundations need to be able to give flexible subsidy support to for-profit organisations to enable them to achieve social change rather than restrict their giving to not-for-profits.”

Shell Foundation has invested nearly $112 million to date in many such ideas and small businesses. Major successes include GroFin, which uses microfinance to encourage business development in Africa. Another is EMBARQ, which provides a more sustainable transport system in Mexico and other countries. It provides larger buses to carry more people along dedicated bus lanes, cutting journeys and travelling time.

In India, Gyanesh Pandey, an electrical engineer who co-founded Husk Power Systems, is convinced of the role of energy in easing poverty in developing countries: “Almost a third of India’s population is not connected to the grid and more than 50% have no access to reliable electricity,” he said. “Society cannot claim progress when so many of the world's population are still struggling for basic energy.”