St. Louis company provides first-ever electricity for parts of India

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 5:59 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — More than two dozen villages in rural central India will have electricity for the first time thanks to a solar power program, SunEdison announced Wednesday.

SunEdison said it will design, install and manage distributed-generation solar power plants to 29 villages under its Eradication of Darkness program.

More than 400,000 people in India live without electricity, limiting education and economic opportunities and making them more vulnerable to sickness and famine, according to SunEdison, a subsidiary of suburban St. Louis-based MEMC Electronic Materials Inc.

"This program is making electricity accessible to citizens in India who have never dreamt of having it in their homes or workplaces," said Ahmad Chatila, president and CEO of MEMC.

The program will be implemented in stages in 29 villages near Guna, Madhya Pradesh, benefiting about 41,000 people.

SunEdison declined to estimate the cost of the project but said funding will come from government grants and private investment. The timing will depend on how quickly each project is approved by local governments, but company officials hope to complete all of the plants in 12 to 18 months.

Earlier this year, the Belmont, Calif.-based company finished a pilot project with the installation of a 14-kilowatt solar energy plant in Meerwada, Madhya Pradesh, which supplies power to 400 villagers.

The company said that Meerwada villagers, who walked nearly two miles to collect drinking water, had only kerosene lamps for artificial light. SunEdison worked with villagers to establish a council that will maintain and protect the system from vandalism and theft.

SunEdison has been working with villagers in the Guna District to educate them about electricity, said Pashupathy Gopalan, SunEdison's managing director for the region.

SunEdison officials said the India project will provide a business model that can be used to get electricity to other unserved areas around the world.

"The day-to-day challenges faced by people who do not have electricity are beyond imagination to many of us," Chatila said.

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