Harvesting electricity: Power potential of traditional watermills

Energy crisis is a situation in which a nation suffers from a disruption of energy supplies accompanied by rapidly rising energy prices that threaten the economic and national security, has engrossed the world attention way back in 1973.
Harvesting electricity: Power potential of traditional watermills
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Energy crisis is a situation in which a nation suffers from a disruption of energy supplies accompanied by rapidly rising energy prices that threaten the economic and national security, has engrossed the world attention way back in 1973. The energy crisis of this new century needs attention and policy that will keep the economy running on more than just fumes. Renewable energy has huge potential to provide solution to increased energy crisis and is a crucial factor to the future of energy, food and economic security.

Jammu Kashmir, although, bestowed with substantial water resources with the capacity to generate more than 20,000 megawatts, is experiencing severe energy-crunch as it is unable to meet basic energy requirements. Shortage of this critical input is reflected by the state's industrial backwardness and low socio-economic conditions. It is pertinent here to note that if the energy economy of the state is allowed to operate at its fullest potential, the state will not only become energy self-sufficient state, but would also add largely to the national grid. However, lack of hydroelectricity causes not only inconvenience to domestic consumers, but also introduces economic losses for industrial and commercial sectors whereby affecting their productions and services. Ironically, this huge hydropower potential has not been fully exploited due to the shortage of financial resources and as a consequence of the provisions in accordance to the Indus Water Treaty signed between India and Pakistan which restrains the right of JK on the upper Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus for purposes of consumptive hydroelectric storage and diversions within these basins which hurt the people and halt the economy and was rather a case of 'Organized Loot and Legalized Blunder' on the state's resources. The Government of Jammu Kashmir has decided to encourage generation of power through small hydropower sources of energy and has framed a policy so that the development of this sector serves as a driving factor to achieve the objective of promoting the all-round development of the region.

In olden days the people used to ground maize and wheat by means of watermills in rural areas of JK. It has been observed (during a survey) that more than two hundred identified sites and old mud-and-stone mills which sit idle, could be used for electricity generation, by which hundreds of millers in the valley could make their livelihood through the use of watermills, built along brooks, waterfalls and streams. If each of these mills would be connected to a small-scale turbine, villages could become energy self-reliant, help to bring an end to the long power cuts that have sparked violent protests/deaths across the valley over the period of time especially in winters. The state is constantly suffering from crippling power shortages, despite producing more energy than it consumes, as energy generated in the state goes into national grid making the state vulnerable to load shedding plans during winters.  State hopes to complete a series of energy mega projects that could add several thousand megawatts to the national grid. But instead of focusing on large power projects, government should help identify sites to install small environment friendly turbines alongside watermills. It would require a maximum investment of not more than Rs 20 lakh on the turbine, the motor and the pipe.

Some millers have taken it upon themselves to harness the potential of their watermills. One such person installed a homemade turbine and a small transferring motor alongside his watermill, produces energy to light the mill and a dozen of houses. The turbine uses one-fourth of the water required to run the watermill, and generates enough to light homes and would provide electricity to almost twenty households in a village day-n-night besides grinding maize and wheat which could save villagers money; boost the village economy and rural welfare.

Electricity generation through watermills will ultimately reduce pressure on the forests, which are being cut down for fuel. Seeing on the energy potential of watermills, the government should finance these initiatives to involve local communities as stakeholders to take care of in a best way. With technical and financial assistance to villagers, thousands of megawatts of clean electricity could be produced through the vastly spread traditional watermills along length and breadth of Kashmir. This would be a step towards the welfare of the rural economy on the grounds to save crores of rupees. Nearly 1/3rd of the state budget is spent on the purchase of power that could be saved on the one hand and on the other would flip the infrastructure and manufacturing of the rural economy that was badly affected due to cycles of catastrophes like floods, earthquakes, disasters, etc., and accordingly will save rural populace from energy crisis.

But, so far, neither the government nor the private sector has taken any constructive step to promote this environmentally friendly traditional industry. One hopes that the state government will find practical, pragmatic ways and means to relieve the distress of the rural people who form the majority of the state population.

AUTHOR IS A POST-DOCTORATE FELLOW FOR ENERGY ECONOMICS AT CENTRE FOR CENTRAL ASIAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF KASHMIR

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