Empowering rural India through innovative solutions

by Zainab Naeem | The Energy and Resources Institute
Friday, 13 September 2013 12:30 GMT

(Top left to Bottom left clockwise): Cookstove being used to make chapati (Indian bread); a self help group leader demonstrating the usage of cookstove; woman entrepreneur at a solar charging station; a village doctor preparing an Ayurvedic medicine. Photo Courtesy: Ahona Datta Gupta and Rima Mondal

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Village Tanda (Jagdishpur, U.P), Sept 12, 2013: “Cooking is such a joy now. Earlier, I used to struggle for two hours every day cooking in the chimney. It had an array of health effects and all the utensils used to turn black, but now with the cook stove, I only spend an hour and cook the most delicious food for my family,” said Shashi, in an upbeat mood.

“I have got 80 per cent marks in my exams, which is two times higher than what I use to get earlier,” said Hema, pointing to the light from the solar lantern next to her.

Shashi and Hema are beneficiaries of the 'Clean Energy Access Partnership' Initiatives spearheaded by global think tank The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Department of International Development (DFID). Both are residents of Village Tanda, a small village in Jagdishpur- a TERI intervention site in Uttar Pradesh. The partnership revolves around the entire value chain of clean energy delivery for rural households. The key features include: research and customization of new products/standards; piloting new business models involving public private partnerships; close networking with financial institutions and capacity building of stakeholders. It has contributed to the development of new cookstove designs, innovative lighting products/systems (solar micro grid, Li-ion based LED lanterns) and integration of lighting and cooking through the Integrated Domestic Energy System (IDES).

DFID-TERI partnership has directly impacted close to a million lives wherein the Solar Charging Stations and Solar Micro Grids are being serviced by over 75 Energy Enterprises. Further it has indirectly impacted on close to 1.7 million lives by sale/service of new systems.

Baroness Verma, Member of the House of Lords and Junior Minister, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Government of U.K. and Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Director General, TERI visited Village Tanda last week. They inaugurated a solar micro-grid connection (SMG) for provision of household lighting and forced draft improved biomass cookstoves for 20 households.

“The problem in India is particularly acute with almost 400 million people without access to electricity and almost twice this number using biomass, often of inferior quality, for cooking on highly inefficient and polluting cookstoves. TERI's efforts have concentrated over the years on finding technological and institutional solutions to this complex set of challenges,” said Dr. R.K.Pachauri

He further added, “The project at Jagdishpur is representative of the solutions TERI has developed and implemented at the grassroots level across the length and breadth of India and in other parts of the world. In these efforts TERI has been fortunate to receive support from various organisations, including the UK Department of International Development.”

TERI aims to have improved cookstoves delivered and in use by 100,000 households by 2015 and solar lighting systems adopted across 400,000 households. As a result, 2.5 million people will benefit from access to modern, clean energy for cooking or lighting. The project actively involves women in designing cookstoves and sustainable business models that integrate women within the energy access value chain.

Cooking on inefficient and polluting cook stoves causes severe health problems for millions of women in India. Collecting fuel puts women and children at risk and limits education opportunities. India and the U.K. are working together on an innovative project to provide improved cookstoves and economic opportunities to thousands of women,” said Baroness Verma.

“We launched Lighting a Billion Lives in 2008. Since then, we have been able to reach close to 2300 villages spreading over 21 states in India. We started off with a centralized model where solar lanterns were charged and rented out by village level entrepreneurs, thereby bringing in light to rural households. Recently, we have also introduced the solar micro grids. It is a decentralized grid to the extent that it can be installed from 10-20 to 200 households,” said Mr. Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman, Director, Social Transformation Division, TERI

The focus area has been to set up a chain of energy entrepreneurs at the village level who will not only sell the clean energy technologies, but also maintain it. Our endeavor is to reach to places and expand the entrepreneurship to as many villages as possible. In this regard, we are also working with several local governments,” he added.

TERI initiated its widely acclaimed flagship campaign Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) that garnered strong support worldwide, and has been instrumental in illuminating nearly 1.3 million lives across rural India. Under the Lighting a Billion Lives initiative, close to 100,000 solar lanterns are already in use benefiting nearly 1.3 million lives across India; a network of energy enterprises is set up across 11 states in India and 2400 ‘green jobs’ have been created through rural entrepreneurship. These 75 energy enterprises have indirectly catalyzed the solar market in rural areas to illuminate an additional 1.7 million lives.

Uttar Pradesh is one of the key states for both, the lighting and cooking initiatives of TERI. Under Lighting a Billion Lives, close to 400 villages have been covered in the state through direct interventions touching more than 330,000 lives. Similarly, the initiative on cookstoves has reached out to close to2131households in U.P.

These ambitious grassroots initiatives assume significance in light of the growing demand for clean and affordable energy that is elementary to the quality of life as well as for ensuring socio-economic development. Without access to affordable energy, it will be impossible to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women or even reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. Around the world nearly three billion people use biomass for cooking purposes. The scourge of cooking on open fires and rudimentary cookstoves as a global health problem demands urgent attention.