Solar proverbs -“Place panels while the sun shines”

Proverbs are said to be immortal, but it seems that they are prone to modifications at some point in history. The inhabitants of Hosekerahalli slum area, Bangalore serve as an epitome of this when you get to see these small solar panels on their rooftops changing their lives for ever.

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The migrant labourer’s colony in this part of Bangalore were not getting power from the grid as they live in temporary tents and migrate to different parts of the city according to the construction sites they work. This makes the use of solar energy feasible for them than the normal gird. Most of them belong to northern Karnataka and have their children studying in their villages. So their needs in these settlements are mainly limited to lighting and mobile charging. They can also carry these panels along with them to whichever places they go. In short for them renewable energy is flexible and customized.

The two settlements here constitute almost 60 households in which almost 21 of them possess the solar lighting systems. The system provided by SELCO consists of a single solar panel, battery, controller unit, one led light (which consists of 3 blocks of lamps for bright light). They can buy these units with a flexible monthly installment scheme which is being collected by special collection agent. This eases out the financial burden on them and by owning these units it clearly creates the need to maintain them properly contrary to the freely distributed systems in many of such slums.

Each household pays R.s 1000 as a lump sum in the beginning and R.s 500 per month in installments till the total amount of 6000 is reached so as to own the unit. In return they are provided free maintenance and regular checks by the operators of SELCO. The social enterprise has created a very good network of technicians at the local level that the system failures are checked and maintained efficiently.

The people here were previously dependent on kerosene for lighting which would cost them almost 300 R.s per month for kerosene as they had to buy it from outside the public distribution shops which is almost 70 R.s / litre. In addition to this they had to spend R.s 5 for charging mobile once in the nearby shop. It is also worth mentioning that here most of them use their mobile phone as flash torch and radio also. This gives us an interesting picture of how the solar units have empowered the households by lighting their lives and enabling them to charge their mobiles without any external help.

The use of LED lights in the place of kerosene lamps has certainly impacted the lives of people. In the words of Khwaja Hussein “The black soot from these lamps used to cause lot of breathing issues and there was the presence of black particles in the nose especially that of children. With the use of these LED lights we are having access to decent and efficient light from 6 pm in the evening to 6 am in the morning and we don’t have to worry about any electricity bills.” This itself is a testimony of how renewable energy has impacted the development of communities in a direct manner. In poor households the switch from kerosene lamps to solar powered LED lighting is in itself a great achievement when we come to know that a recent study observed that India has an alarming high rate of household air pollution compared to the WHO standards. (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/household-air-pollution-way-beyond-safe-limits-in-india/article5418834.ece).

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As most of the inhabitants here work as construction labourers there are no such direct uses of lighting for livelihood activities in a major way but still there was the example of a woman who was carrying out stitching and embroidery works who uses the light so that she can work late in the night and earn extra income and do some urgent works for her customers. This can be a model replicated in such projects where there is an enhancement of livelihood activities other than productive loads, where the lighting systems itself acts a component for enhancing livelihood options. Here the innovation in the design of these customized lanterns helps in achieving that objective.

In short a simple lighting system has empowered the lives of migrant labourers in this colony which emphasize the importance of a need based intervention which actually makes them pay for it and eventually makes them owners of the system. This is a crucial part in renewable energy based interventions where even more efficient mini grids can fail if there is no ownership and need based approach .Moreover the ease of use and flexibility offered by these systems is regarded as the important criteria which determines the success and acceptance of these systems.

The regulatory frameworks and policies for renewable energy based interventions should include the component of local capacity building and should have mandatory provisions that ensure proper maintenance and follow up   without which the entire idea of decentralized energy would be a failure. Decentralized energy should shift the entire paradigm of sustainable development and energy access to the route of empowerment of the customer giving him a choice and proper service for which there is indeed a willingness to pay. Thus it is advisable to evaluate sustainable technologies in the framework of choice based empowerment rather than a complex framework of social and economic impacts.  Using such a framework would help in devising policies and programmes in a more efficient manner.

Subsidies and charity based approaches in the past has not been a successful strategy in tackling the issue of energy poverty. The switch to renewables as a strategy to low carbon growth also doesn’t hold good when it comes to the Indian scenario because any type of customer here goes for a hassle free, properly maintained system which is easy to use regardless of its impact on environment. .There is a need to be recognized as a valuable customer where he is willing to pay for a better service and better quality of light. SELCO is trying to practice this principle with these innovative projects and removes the misconception that sustainable technologies are not affordable for the poor

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About felixvarghese

Chemical Engineer, Independent Analyst in Renewable Energy, Work experience with SELCO Foundation and Prayas energy group. Environment enthusiast and in love with renewable energy.
This entry was posted in Energy news, Energy poverty, Environment, Renewable Energy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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