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Solar balm for power-hit Assam tea gardens

- Estates look for renewable source of energy to continue production of the brew
The solar power plant installed at Attareekhat tea estate in Sonitpur district. Telegraph picture

Jorhat, July 9: Several tea gardens in Assam are looking at solar power to tide over the acute power shortage in the state.

The first off the block is McLeod Russell’s Attareekhat tea estate in Sonitpur district, which installed a 100kW solar power plant in May, while another tea estate owned by a multinational company in Sivasagar district is looking to set up a 750kW plant.

Dipak Mehta, a senior official of McLeod Russell, told The Telegraph that the power generated by the plant is being used both for domestic use as well as for the factory. “This is a pilot project and we want to assess the feasibility of solar power. If it clicks, we have plans to install similar plants in our other gardens,” he said.

Another tea garden executive said the estates have no other option but to look for alternative sources of energy as the power scenario in the state is dismal.

“We have been receiving less than 50 per cent of the required power in the last few months. Gardens are being forced to look for alternative sources of energy to keep tea making viable,” said a senior executive of an estate in Darrang district.

Rajib Barooah, chairman of Assam Tea Planters’ Association, said not only was the cost of production going up because of the regular use of generators, the quality of tea has also deteriorated because of frequent disruptions in the manufacturing process.

“The cost of production has gone up by almost 50 per cent because of the erratic power supply and disruptions in the manufacturing process owing to frequent power cuts and it has taken its toll on the quality of tea,” he said.

Official sources said there has been a regular shortage of around 300MW power in Assam during the peak load hour — 6pm to 11pm — in the last few months, while shortfall in the off-peak hour is around 200MW.

The off-peak load hour demand in the state is 1,000MW, while the peak load hour demand is around 1,300MW.

The power availability during these two periods during the last few months was around 800MW and around 1,000MW respectively.

The available power is fed mostly to urban areas, while the remote areas where most of the tea gardens are located, get much less power.

Gyanesh Chaudhury, managing director of Vikram Solar, a leading manufacturer of photovoltaic solar modules in the country, which has installed the solar plant in Attareekhat tea estate, confirmed that talks were on with several other tea estates in Assam as well as in Bengal, regarding installation of solar units.

He said although Assam gets more than adequate rainfall throughout the year, the radiation in the rest of the year is sufficient enough to generate adequate solar power. “Assam falls under the medium radiation level,” Chaudhury said.

The company has undertaken a project to install a 100kW solar power plant in Dibrugarh University.

Regarding the limit to solar power capacity vis-à-vis the amount required for a tea factory, Chaudhury said there is no limit to solar power capacity. “It is a source of renewable power in a factory’s low tension (LT) distribution system, which can replace the costly diesel generation power as well as bring down the grid power consumption depending on the load consumption pattern. Solar system with battery back-up can also store the solar energy for consumption during night,” he said.

On how solar power compares with conventional power in regard to installation cost, particularly when it comes to running machinery, the official said solar power closely competes with other conventional sources of power as far as installation cost is concerned. “Cost of producing solar power is also cheaper,” he said.