Making light of Darkness!

by Basudha Das, TERI | The Energy and Resources Institute
Tuesday, 11 November 2014 11:27 GMT

The LaBL campaign encompasses an integrated Public–Private–People participatory approach at the grassroot level. Photo credit: TERI

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LaBL has adopted a localized, bottoms-up approach that has provided best practices on how to address the challenges of providing clean lighting to billions

 

Night falls quickly in Jarol Kasuba in Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district and soon it is enveloped in a thick blanket of darkness. Men, women and children lie down on their jute-stringed cots under the open sky, dosing off to an orchestration of chirping crickets and croaking frogs, while the, almost mechanical, flapping of hand fans helped the villagers keep the swarms of mosquitoes away.  

Few homes had access to electricity here and those that were connected to the grid had irregular supply. As a teenager, Dhurva Kumar, was one of the few souls in the village who would struggle to complete his home work under the dim light of a kerosene lantern. The darkness could not extinguish his spark and, today, Kumar has not only gone to the college, he has also completed his masters in Economics.

“The power scenario in the district is poor. Most villages in the district have no access to electricity, and the rest get intermittent power supply of three to eight hours. Sometimes we even go without electricity for even three days on a trot,” says Kumar, who decided to lead a crusade in his village. And, his association with The Energy and Resources Institute’s (TERI) ‘Lighting a Billion Lives’ (LaBL) project proved to be a game changer not only for him, but for his fellow villagers also. “I came to know about the success of TERI’s LaBL programme that provided clean lighting to hundreds of villages through customised solar technologies. I got in touch with an NGO which has partnered with TERI in reaching out to local villagers and also attended a training workshop,” Kumar adds. TERI provided him with an inventory and branding support. This helped him establish his enterprise called Nimish Solar Traders.

TERI’s LaBL campaign encompasses an integrated Public–Private–People participatory approach at the grassroot level, where technologies, such as Solar Charging Stations (SCSs) and Solar Micro Grids (SMGs), are set up to provide affordable and accessible lighting solutions.

Under the campaign, local energy entrepreneurs such as Kumar are trained by TERI or its partner organisations on how solar lanterns and micro grids function. These entrepreneurs, who operate at a cluster level, work closely with village-level entrepreneurs, who own and operate energy service delivery options, such as solar micro-grids and solar lantern charging stations.

“As an energy entrepreneur, I am able to provide electricity to the villagers. This has further enabled local people to generate employment opportunities and improve livelihoods. It has also helped me earn an extra income of Rs 7,000-8,000. TERI has been effective in resource mobilization, and motivated me by providing constant support throughout this endeavor,” says Kumar.

To strengthen the entire network and rural energy projects, TERI has employed local-level institutions to look into training and capacity building and to ensure after-sale services. Energy Enterprises cater to after-sales service support to LaBL solar charging stations and are also authorized to market and sell TERI-approved clean energy products, such as solar lights and improved cook-stoves in a designated area. The energy entrepreneurs assist in creating local capacities of rural youth to execute other energy access projects in the area.

“Solar lanterns and mobile chargers are very much in demand. I get customers throughout the year, but I also face some competition from others who sell similar products at a lower price. However, people usually throng my shop because they are satisfied with my after-sale services. I charge Rs 200 to repair the lanterns and cookstoves. For other problems, we have an engineer in Lucknow who looks after installation and replacement,” Kumar adds.

Kumar distributed pamphlets and conducted village-level meetings to sensitise the locals. “My future entirely depends on how people adopt to these modern energy sources and earn a living.  I have adopted very simple ways of marketing, such as word-of-mouth campaigns, mass meetings and door-to-door interactions. Besides, I have also introduced discounts and offers for customers.”

The TERI campaign has adopted a localized, bottoms-up approach that has provided a valuable set of lessons and best practices on how to address the challenges of providing clean lighting to billions of people who are at the bottom of the pyramid. Kumar is one among thousands whom TERI has helped nurture his business and helped many others through his entrepreneurial venture.