Remote Velhe village uses local waterfall & heavy rain to draw electricity from mini power plant

Located in a hilly terrain and surrounded by forests, Ghevande village in Pune district’s Velhe tehsil has struggled with disrupted power supply for decades.

Now, thanks to an initiative by an NGO, the tiny and remote village, with about 50 houses, has found a solution for its woes: a mini hydro power station to provide uninterrupted electricity to the village.

The village is not accessible by roads. In order to reach Ghevande, its residents have to take a boat from Nivi village and cross Gunjavani dam waters, after which they have to climb a hill to get to the village.

The power plant uses rainwater collected at a waterfall site. Pavan Khengre

While the state power utility did provide electricity connection to the village by laying an overhead cable through the forest, the power supply is erratic at best. “The power supply breaks down frequently. It takes 10-15 days for staff to repair the lines and restore the supply. The situation is worst during monsoon as the area receives heavy rain and the cables get damaged, plunging the entire village into darkness,” said Sunita Gaikwad, a local resident.

But a local NGO used the power of natural elements to generate electricity for the village. The Tree Innovation Foundation, with funding from a few corporate houses, has set up a mini hydro power plant that uses rain water at a waterfall on the hill. A storage tank has been built to collect the flowing water, which is ferried through a six-inch pipeline to a power station 50 feet below the tank. The high water pressure is used to run the turbine, which generates electricity, and reaches the village via a 800-meter cable.

The mini hydro power station not only supplies power to every household in the village, but also lights up 18 streetlights as well as the local school. “The Pune Zilla Parishad has provided a TV set and a desktop computer for the school to help impart education through audio-visual means. However, the system has hardly been used due to power supply problems in the village. The new power plant for the village will help me use electronic items for teaching students,” said Santosh Rakshe, the only teacher in the Zilla Parishad primary school, run in a room of 12 by 14 feet.

Rakshe commutes daily from Velhe village to Ghevande to teach the 12 students in the village. “… The villagers here suffer a lot due to power supply issues as this area is covered by forests… and they often encounter poisonous insects and animals,” he said, adding that uninterrupted power supply was crucial to keep villagers safe in the night.

“The power supply breaks down frequently. It takes 10-15 days for staff to repair the lines and restore the supply. The situation is worst during monsoon as the area receives heavy rain and the cables get damaged, plunging the entire village into darkness,” said Sunita Gaikwad, a local resident.

Tanveer Inamdar, from the Tree Innovation Foundation, said the NGO has been working in tribal areas and using technology to resolve local issues. “The lack of power was our main concern here. We tried to generate power from solar and wind energy in a few villages, but Ghevande is in a hilly terrain, so Kirloskar Engines (one of the corporate houses backing the Foundation) suggested that we go for a mini hydro power plant. The system has been commissioned in Ghevande and Gelgani villages in Velhe tehsil. The electricity generated during the four monsoon months will also be stored in batteries so that it lasts for at least eight months of the year,” he said.

The mini plant will work for eight years and the Foundation will maintain it for the first five years, said Inamdar. “We have formed an Urja committee of villagers who are being trained on maintaining the hydro power plant. The villagers will be made self-reliant so that they can operate the plant one day,” he said.

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Till now, mini hydro power plants have been planned in 10 villages in the sporadic hilly terrains of Pune, Satara and Thane districts. The Foundation plans to replicate the project in three villages each in Karnataka and Goa in the coming year.

Bapu Jor, the resident of a neighbouring village who works as a representative of the Foundation and helps maintain the project, said electricity from the hydro power plant is being provided free of cost but will soon be charged Rs 1.5 per unit, which is lower than the amount charged by the government utility service. The money will be deposited in a separate bank account and used by villagers to maintain the power plant.

Village sarpanch Vikas Kadu-Patil said the power plant has brought relief and hope for villagers. “It not only ensures safety of villagers from snakes and wild animals in the night but also helps children study at home as they return from school in the evening. Some children go to Nivi village to attend secondary school. They have to climb down the hill, take a boat to cross the dam and then walk to school every day. It is dark by the time they come back home and earlier, they couldn’t study at home due to the interrupted power supply,” said Kadu-Patil.