SHIVGANGA, India - A group of
women working in a tree-shaded nursery in this
arid part of southern Tamil Nadu state is helping
to manage India's very first biomass energy
Valli, 50, and Sarasu, 60,
have been working with Energy Plantation Projects
India (EPPI) since inception in 2007, the income
they earn forming an integral part of their
household budgets. "We easily manage household
work and a salary-paying job," they tell Inter
Press Service (IPS).
Around 20 women take
care of daily maintenance work while another 45
work seasonally. The women come in at daybreak and
leave at 2 pm, earning a decent 150 rupees (US$3)
for half-a-day's toil.
"We devised the
timings to suit the women, as we found them to
be sincere workers," says
Sam Venkatesan, director of EPPI. "They are free
to go home in the afternoon and also graze their
goats on land we have set aside for the purpose."
The women, who form over half the
company's entire workforce, are happy to have an
assured income in return for planting and tending
saplings, making shade-nets and taking care of
other nursery essentials.
Grown with seven
indigenous biomass-producing plant species, the
plantation is "one of the first of its kind in the
world", says Venkatesan, who once worked as an
executive with Motorola, the United States-based
Venkatesan said the
plantation is biometrically calculated for
calorific value, rate of growth and yield per acre
to supply its own two megawatt gasification power
plant with the assured biomass supply that is
essential for a successful gasification system.
Gasification converts organic- or
fossil-based carbonaceous material, by controlled
heating, into synthetic gas, and the power derived
from burning the gas is considered to be renewable
EPPI's 121-hectare biomass
plantation now has trees that stand seven meters
tall on degraded land that has been contoured for
watershed conservation with reservoirs constructed
to enable drip irrigation.
groundwater has risen from 300 feet [100 meters]
in 2007, when we started the plantation, to 80
feet now," says C Lalrammawia who manages
technology at the plantation. "Rainfall has
similarly increased from 250 mm annually in 2007
to over 800 mm in 2011."
According to the
National Commission on Agriculture, India has 60
million hectares of degraded non-forest and forest
lands available for tree growing, including
The side-effects of
planting for energy are already visible at EPPI
and these include improvement in the microclimate
of the region with a regeneration of biodiversity.
The reservoirs have becoming watering holes for
deer, and birds now flock to the once arid lands.
"We discovered that a small forest of this
size, with its 2 MW [megawatt] power plant, can
power several of the cell-phone transmission
towers in the area, said Venkatesan. Cell-phone
transmission towers currently consume 2% of
India's subsidized diesel and so that is a huge
The plantation costs US$400 0.4
of a hectare for all-inclusive maintenance
annually and yields 50 tonnes of biomass per 0.4
of a hectare annually on average.
received $4 million as venture capital to begin
its 2 MW power plant running on biomass
gasification using its own energy plantation. But,
there are plans to scale it up to 6 MW by tapping
leasehold energy forests.
of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) after
inspection and approval granted EPPI's energy
plantation $272,000 towards reimbursement of
equipment costs for every megawatt of power
Deepak Gupta, who inspected the
plantation during his tenure as secretary (topmost
official) at MNRE, believes small biomass
gasification power plants are ideal for providing
local power, jobs, natural regeneration and
availability of biomass supply to nearby
"A dedicated biomass power
plant, able to work on its own 24-hour supply, is
the answer to India's local needs," Gupta told
IPS. Under Indian government regulations, EPPI
can upload power into the national grid, but the
company has opted to distribute power to the local
grid to ensure power supply to villages close to
where its lands are situated.
guarantee electricity to each household because we
don't control the grid, but this will surely
ensure local benefit. Social inclusion for us is
not just corporate social responsibility, it is
our business model," says Venkatesan.
calculated 26.4 tonnes of biomass needed to
produce 1 MW of power daily, the company envisages
a plant load factor (PLF), or running capacity, of
80-85%, which is better than average.
can safely calculate this PLF because we own the
plantation and have control over supply," says
Jayanth Ganapathy, who manages the company's
EPPI managers say the
plantation's predicted growth rate has included
factors such as extreme weather or slower climatic
change events by increasing the contingency scale
of each management need.
"Which means, for
instance, that we need more land per megawatt, or
we calculate an increased buffer amount for each
necessity," says Venkatesan. "This is our
management technique. If I were to accept all
factors such as climate change, pests and weather
vagaries, I'd have to give up," said Venkatesan.
"But EPPI has shown the world that an energy
plantation company is more than possible."