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Ashden Awards Case Study | Saran, India | Summary

Case study summary 2009 Ashden Award

Saran Renewable Energy, India

India statistics 2004/5

Saran Renewable Energy is a private company, established in (UNDP)

2006 to provide electricity in Bihar. GDP: US$736/year per person

CO2 emission: 1.2 tonnes/year per person
80% of people live on less than US$2/day
Bihar is one of the poorest states in India. Mains electric power is available erratically and 44% of people lack grid electricity
black-outs can last for days. The 2009 Ashden Award to Saran Renewable Energy
recognised its achievement in providing reliable electricity to small businesses from a
biomass gasifier, and reliable income to farmers for producing the biomass. Location

– Most biomass used is ‘dhaincha’, a local woody plant which grows on uncultivated
waterlogged land, or can be added in the existing crop rotation during the monsoon.
— The gasification plant uses a dual-fuel generator, to supply 128 kW of electricity at 240 V.
Two 3 kV transmission lines link to the customers.
— The gasification plant runs irrigation pumps connected to the transmission lines and a
pipe to supply to farms close to the plant.
— Most of the customers previously used diesel generators, to run grain mills, cold stores, a
sawmill, a welding business and a clinic. Some customers are ‘generators’ who sell Indian
electricity for lighting or charge batteries for other customers. Subcontinent
— Customers are charged about US$0.15/kWh for electricity, compared with about US$0.28/
kWh for diesel generators and US$0.12/kWh for (unreliable) grid supply
— The plant runs for 11 hours a day and supplies about 220 MWh per year. It saves an “I never used the mains electricity
estimated 0.35 litres of diesel per kWh, or about 77,000 litres of diesel per year. because it was so unreliable. The
— Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by about 206 tonnes/year CO2. electricity from the gasifier is so
— About 100 small famers increase their income by selling dhaincha and other biomass to reliable that I can use it all day.”
the gasification plant. Head of nursing centre
— Capital cost expected to be recovered in about six years through electricity sales.

Dhaincha stems stacked to dry in the sun

Saran Renewable Energy is a private company, established in 2006 to provide electricity in
Bihar. The gasification plant cost about US$170,000 to construct, financed by investment
Saran Renewable Energy
from the directors, a bank loan and an anticipated government subsidy. Saran Renewable
Vivek Gupta
Energy had a turnover of US$66,000 and 12 staff in 2009.

Document last updated May 2009
Ashden Awards Case Study | Saran, India 2

Case study
Saran, India


Saran District is in a rural part of Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. In many places the The technology in more detail
mains electric grid has not been well maintained, and there is a shortfall in electricity
generation capacity, so power is available erratically and black-outs can last for days. The dhaincha and other types of
biomass (such as corn cobs, wood, and
Rainfall is high because of the monsoon, which feeds several important permanent rivers, other local plants) is sold to SRE by the
but frequently causes flooding. In the dry season, it is possible to pump water from farmers who produce it.SRE staff chop
boreholes to irrigate crops, but reliable electricity is needed to do this. A significant the long stems of dhaincha and logs of
proportion of the land stays waterlogged, and has limited value for growing crops. wood into pieces 50 mm long, and
these are dried in the sun to a
Saran Renewable Energy (SRE) was set up to provide more reliable electricity in Bihar. It moisture content of approximately
has built a biomass gasification plant at Garkha to gasify biomass bought from local famers, 15%.
and use the gas to generate electricity, which is sold to small, local businesses.
Biomass is fed into the top of the
reaction vessel every 15 minutes. Air is
drawn through at a controlled rate, to
provide oxygen for the gasification
The organisation
process and dry the biomass. The
biomass is heated to several hundred
Saran Renewable Energy is a private company, which was established in 2006 by a
degrees until it is broken down by
family-owned grain-trading business. It has a board of four directors, and an annual
pyrolysis, producing tar and volatile
turnover of US$66,000 and 12 staff (2009).
hydrocarbons. These gases are drawn
down through the narrow combustion
zone and through the hot charcoal
The technology
below it, and are broken down into a
mixture of hydrogen carbon monoxide,
How does it work?
carbon dioxide and a small amount of
Locally supplied biomass is used as the fuel for the gasifier. The main source (about 70%) is
methane. This mixture is called wood
from a native woody plant called ‘dhaincha’ which grows rapidly in swampy areas, and also
gas or producer gas. The combustion
on uncultivated land beside roads and rivers.
chamber is lined with three layers of
firebrick, for insulation.
The biomass is fed into the gasifier and heated to a high temperature, until it gives off a
mixture of flammable gases, mainly hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The gas is used in an
Ash and charcoal drop into the grate at
engine to generate electricity, which is distributed to customers.
the bottom of the gasifier and are
removed by a screw feed. The charcoal
Several of the sixteen main customers are ‘generators’ – people who were previously
is separated and can be sold, as can
running diesel generators and selling the electricity to their own customers. The
the tar. The gas stream is taken off at
‘generators’ continue their existing business, but they sell on electricity from SRE rather
the side and goes though a number of
than running their own diesel generators.
processes that cool, clean and filter it.
This particular gasifier design
How much does it cost and how do users pay?
produces very low levels of tar and
US$1 = Rs 50 (Indian Rupees) [April 2009]
particulates, which has the dual
The plant cost about US$170,000 (Rs 8.3 million) to construct, about 90% for the gasifier
benefit of low emissions and low plant
and generation plant, and 10% for the first 3 kV distribution line.
maintenance. Cleaning water is
The electricity supplied to each customer from the gasifier plant is metered, and customers
are supposed to pay each day. Contracts are negotiated with individual customers, at
around US$0.15 (Rs 7.5) per kWh. As extra customers are connected and more of the
available plant capacity is used, the price may decrease.

The state electricity price is only US$0.12 (Rs 6) per kWh, but customers are prepared to pay
more for the reliability of the gasifier supply. Also, many customers had already given up
with grid supply and were relying on diesel generators. Typical charges for buying
electricity from diesel generators are about US$0.24 to US$0.32 (Rs 12 to 16) per kWh, so
the gasifier supply is considerably cheaper, and gives a more stable voltage and frequency.
Ashden Awards Case Study | Saran, India 3

Where is it manufactured and how is it maintained?

The technology continued
SRE chose a down-draught open-top gasifier, manufactured by Netpro under licence from
“I installed the pump in January 2007.
the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore. The dual-fuel Kirloskar engine is made in
Since then I have
A dual-fuel engine grown
is usedmany types of
to generate
crop. Usingrated
electricity, the profits, I have
at 160 kVA andbuilt a
new house, up
supplying saved
to 128some
kW atmoney
240 V.and got
The plant is maintained by technicians trained in Bangalore, with heavy maintenance
daughter 10married. I also is
and 15% diesel plan to
undertaken by an engineering company based in Haryana. Both the gasifier and the
expand my farming.
for ignition. The engine is housed in a
engine used by SRE have been reliable, and the electricity generated has a stable voltage
purpose-made enclosure, which
and frequency, which is particularly important for some of the small industrial users. The
Before I onlynoise.
minimises usedThe to grow
itself uses
plant operates for about 85% of the time during scheduled hours of supply, but down time
about 15so I couldn’t
kVA, mainly forsell them.
pumps andNow I
can usually be arranged for quiet periods so the availability for most users is higher. During
growing a variety
At present of vegetables
electricity is generated
the first two years of operation, the plant had to be shut down for only two days for
andandtaking them
supplied to market.forEvery
to customers elevenday I
emergency maintenance. With proper maintenance the plant life should be 15 years.
take vegetables
hours per day, fromto the market...My
10:00 to 21:00.
Customers were already familiar with using electricity, so did not require much training to
family is doing very well..I don’t have
convert to SRE supply.
is connected to a low
voltageArun Jana
line (240 V, 3-phase) to supply
An adequate stock-pile of fuel is stored on site to prevent shortages but fuel is always
customers in the immediate vicinity of
available locally at very short notice since the plant is in a rural area.
the plant. Because this demand is
limited, a transformer is used to step
up the voltage to 3 kV, for transmission
via two 3 kV lines to a groups of
customers about 1.25 km away. At the
SRE sold an average of about 300 kWh/day of electricity in 2008 (total 110 MWh/year), but
other end of these lines, another
production has since doubled. Sixteen electricity customers were supplied by mid-2009,
transformer steps down the voltage,
and ten water pumps. The gasification plant operates for eleven hours per day, from 10:00 to
and power is taken to a distribution
21:00, with average demand about 43% of capacity during this time. An estimated 200
room with a meter for each customer.
users benefit directly from the electricity supply to businesses and shops, and a further 125
farmers benefit from irrigation water or from selling dhaincha to SRE.
The first customers in the immediate
vicinity of the plant were connected in
Environmental benefits
2007, the first 3 kV line was completed
SRE estimates that, taking into account the diesel which is used for ignition, about 0.35
in 2008, and the second in 2009.
litres of diesel are saved per kWh of electricity generated by the gasifier. The mid-2009
generation of 220 MWh/year therefore replaces about 77,000 litres/year of diesel and
avoids the production of 206 tonnes/year of CO2 . The plant also reduces the emission of
other pollutants, such as nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates, and is very quiet
The plant was financed by
compared with diesel generators.
investments from the directors, a bank
loan of US$40,000 (Rs 2 million), and
Social benefits
government subsidy. SRE operated at a
One of the main SRE customers is a nursing station, which uses electricity for run its
loss in the first year of generating
services of collecting and analysing blood and other samples during the day time.
(2007), but made a profit of US$12,000
To support education, SRE set up a study centre with free electricity, where children can
(Rs 0.6 million) in 2008. The initial
study in the evenings. It also provides subsidised electricity to a computer training centre.
business plan was to recover the
capital costs in four years through
Economic and employment benefits
electricity sales, but this is now
Most other electricity customers are small businesses, including grain and oil mills, a
expected to be six years. The largest
sawmill, a welder, a battery charging station, a cinema and ‘generators’ supplying village
proportion of the running costs is
lighting. All benefit from a more reliable supply of electricity and the use of diesel
paying off the investment (55%),
generators has almost been eliminated.
followed by fuel costs (35%) and
operation and maintenance (15%).
Electricity from the SRE plant is used to operate ten irrigation pumps by farmers living close
to the transmission lines. SRE also runs an irrigation pump close to the plant and sells
water to local famers. 30 hectares in total are irrigated, at about one third of the cost of diesel
“Growing dhaincha is hassle free
SRE guarantees to buy agricultural waste and dhaincha from about 100 famers. The use of
and very easy. It doesn’t need
dhaincha as a fuel was introduced carefully to minimise competition for land with food
fertilisers, it doesn’t require much
crops. About 80% is grown on land which was previously uncultivated because it was
effort and it is very economical. It
waterlogged. Some of the dhaincha was already growing, and SRE provided seeds and
is generating money for our
advice to farmers to establish new plantations. Dhaincha sprouts at the beginning of the
survival. It supports my family. It
monsoon, grows rapidly and fixes nitrogen, so some farmers grow it as an additional
provides food and education for
short-season crop in the monsoon, on land which they are already cultivating. A farmer
my children.”
with a hectare of marshy land can produce about 5 tonnes/year of dhaincha and earn an
Vipin Kumar Ojha
extra US$150 to 200 (Rs 7,500 to Rs 10,000)/year, less transport costs, a significant amount
in this region.
Ashden Awards Case Study | Saran, India 4

SRE employs 12 staff and 10 casual workers at the plant, and local managers for each 3 kV
line. All the construction workers for the plant came from the local village.

Potential for growth and replication

In the state of Bihar, electricity generation capacity has not kept pace with demand. There is
therefore potential to expand the current gasification plant, which was deliberately set up
with space to double its capacity. There is also potential to set up similar plants in other
areas where clusters of small businesses are close to farms which could supply the
biomass, and SRE has already started dhaincha cultivation in two other areas. There is
interest in the work in both India and Nepal and SRE is involved in setting up a similar plant
in Bharatpur in Nepal. If plants were also set up to supply the many households who have
Saran gasification plant and wood.
never been connected to the grid, then demand would grow rapidly. Several similar rural
gasification programmes have started elsewhere in India, and the demand for electricity is
such that there is plenty of potential business. The main constraints, for SRE and others, are
to find reliable supplies of biomass which do not compete with food production, and to
attract investment finance.

Contact details
Vivek Gupta
Saran Renewable Energy Pvt Ltd “First we were using mains power,
102 Bajrang Market then it stopped and we were using
Mauna Gola Road diesel generators. But then we were
Chapra making a loss, so we started using
Saran biomass power. Every day it is saving
Bihar – 841301 us US$4 (Rs 200) compared to what we
India were spending on diesel generators.
www.saranrenew.com We are getting more work done more
efficiently and our income has gone up
a bit too. We have no worries now.”
Kailash Sah

Businesses such as this welding shop benefit from a

reliable electricity source.

This report is based on information provided to the Ashden Awards judges by Saran Renewable Energy, and findings from a
visit by one of the judging team to see their work in India, and presentations made by Vivek Gupta at Ashden Awards events
in London.

The Ashden Awards have taken all reasonable care to ensure that the information contained in this report is full and
accurate. However, no warranty or representation is given by The Ashden Awards that the information contained in this
report is free from errors or inaccuracies. To the extent permitted by applicable laws, The Ashden Awards accept no liability
for any direct, indirect or consequential damages however caused resulting from reliance on the information contained in
this report.
Last updated: May 2009

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