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Solar power drives financial inclusion in remote areas

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-07-2017 Gireesh Chandra Prasad

New Delhi: Compact solar power systems are supporting the government’s financial inclusion programme by powering automated teller machines (ATMs) in remote areas not connected to the national grid.

Technology firms assisting banks in operating cash dispensing machines in far-flung areas for the benefit of account holders, brought into the banking system under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna, say that solar power with battery backup is a more economically viable and cleaner option than diesel generators.

Diesel power generators occupy more space, pollute the air and need regular fuel refills, which make power from these devices up to 2.5 times costlier than power from the conventional grid, said Atul Arya, head of energy systems at Panasonic India, which has installed many compact solar power systems with battery backup for ATMs in rural areas.

Solar power, on the other hand, has no fuel costs. Solar panel and battery backup costs have also been declining over the last few years, making it a viable source of power for commercial enterprises in rural areas.

“We installed a large number of energy storage systems enabling ATMs to function non-stop and people to do transactions round the clock,” said Arya, adding that Panasonic India’s biggest customers in the clean energy segment are telecom firms and banks.

The company has deployed its energy systems at 640 sites, primarily in Bihar and Jharkhand and pilot projects are on at 16 ATM sites in North East, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and in the national capital region. The cost of setting up a solar power system with battery backup is roughly Rs2 lakh per ATM. Panasonic group companies have installed similar systems in the US and Europe. 

Under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna, 280 million new bank accounts were opened as on 22 March 2017, out of which about 170 million are in rural areas, according to data from the finance ministry. As part of the government’s drive to promote digital payments, about 220 million of these account holders have been issued debit cards.

Joy Saxena, executive director-finance, Vikram Solar Pvt. Ltd, a leading supplier of solar modules and a project developer, said that setting up solar-powered ATMs is a viable option for promoting financial inclusion in remote areas.

The significance of off-grid power solutions for remote areas is immense considering that grid power is either not available or is available intermittently in many parts of the country.

“With nearly 304 million Indians without access to electricity, and about 500 million people still dependent on solid bio-mass for cooking, it may be acknowledged that the country has to still go a long way on securing its energy security objective,” federal policy think tank Niti Aayog observed in a new draft energy policy released for discussion on 27 June. Niti Aayog also said that demand for energy from all sources will increase over the medium term.

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