Krishnan Pallassana: "Solar solutions for the energy deprived in India - a promise that begs deliverance!"

13 May 2014

Krishnan Pallassana, Executive Director, The Climate Group India narrates his experiences from the field visit to Satpipri village in Shahada block, Nandurbar district in Maharasthra, a Bijli project villageThe project is being implemented through our local partner S3IDF, technology partner SELCO and micro-finance organization Bhagni Nivedita Foundation.

Bijli – Clean Energy for All is a renewable energy pilot initiative funded by Dutch Postcode Lottery. The project aims to reach 50,000 people in rural India, piloting a business case solution to the energy-hungry 400 million Indians who are not connected to the grid. The evidence already gathered from the field indicates the reliability as well as viability of the off grid solar energy business model.

As our cars meandered through the winding village alleys, leaving behind a storm of dust and fume, young boys and girls stopped from their vocation, a daily routine of last minute catching up with friends before being rushed by their mothers to the day schools.

Satpipri village is a typical rural India village, full and vibrant with sun burnt houses, thatched roofs, a local grocer, a tea shop, dusty roads, men and boys charting herds of animals, women carrying bundles on their heads, and girls carrying precariously positioned water-filled earthen pots on theirs.

Our driver honked continuously, seeking right of way from the bullock carts. Early mornings in Indian villages have their own hustle and bustle, with most of the people busy ensuring they have enough of everything to last the day.

The only aberration to this classical picturesque village, was the rectangular frames on people's roofs, glistening under the scorching morning sun.

These recently installed solar panels stood out strangely on the thatched roofs. “Nothing can be more contradictory”, mused my colleague Jarnail Singh as we stepped out from our cars.

Our escort for the day Kanti Lal, the most ingenious solar champion in the village, takes us to the house of Amber Singh, a 20-year-old married and illiterate laborer who earns money selling wood he collects every morning form the nearby forest. During monsoon, Amber does odd jobs as a farm hand. When he married Usha Bai, love of his life, his family disowned him and he relocated to Satpipri village. Shy in nature, Amber had to be cajoled to answer my curious queries.

“I earn Rs. 3,000 a month. If lucky, I get Rs. 4,000 but often the income is very less”. On asking about the expenses, he replied, “until two months ago, maximum money went to buy food and fuel. My son also had frequent sickness, always coughing. But now, things have changed now. But food is still the biggest expenditure.”

We entered his mud house, a dark one-room thatched enclosure. Colorful clothes ornament the walls along with a quartz clock, a radio, rope, umbrella, kitchen utensils of various shapes and sizes, shopping bags and numerous pictures of deities. Amber shyly moved to the wall and pressed an inconspicuous switch.

In a flash, the room was lit by the rich white hue from an LED bulb. But what warmed my heart was the proud smile radiating from Amber and his wife Usha. Instinctively, Usha planted a soft kiss on the cheek of her infant son.

I was amazed. That one moment was enough to convince me the huge difference this small light has made to their lives.

bijli india family

Amber, Usha and son outside their renewably-powered home in Satpiri, Maharasthra

I asked Usha, “Are you happy with this solar light?” Her smile touched ears. Looking down, she replied: “I am very happy. My son is not at all coughing now, saving me of weekly visits to the local doctor. I learned that kerosene was causing all the problems to my son. I need not use kerosene anymore in the evening”. She glanced at the bulb that has taken a place of pride in her family now.

Then I asked Amber why he choose to invest in a lighting system when his earning is meagre. With a shy smile he replied: “Many of my neighbors started having light at home in the evening. I also wanted one.”

Well, well… status quo! An influence alters life in many ways. But whatever the reason be, today Amber is convinced he made the right decision in investing in solar lighting.

“Actually, my expenses have come down even though I am paying Rs. 125 a week for the solar light. I am not paying for kerosene and I am not paying the doctor”, said Amber.

“What next?” I asked Usha. She smiled, looked at her husband and said: “I want a TV”. It was a statement! We all burst out laughing. I looked at Amber and he replied. “In a few months, I will get more solar power and get a TV for her. I don’t mind working hard to pay for that. This solar light has brought more life to my life.”

Kanti Lal echoed his own feelings as we walked through the village. “I lived without electricity for 35 years and never imagined the change it would bring to our lives. While homes are lit now, we want electricity to help us in our livelihood. If we get reliable energy, we can double our productivity”.

As I could see on my trip to Satpiri, Bijli is making a big difference to lives, in more ways than we ever fathomed.

Everyone, poor or rich, understands what adds real value to their lives. The people we met are convinced solar power is an investment worth making; an investment that will enhance the standard of their lives.

Growth and development is sustained when people invest in them. Bijli has proven that market driven, off-grid solar solutions actually empower people.

Solar energy is waiting to explode as a big league business in India - a promise that begs deliverance!

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Image by Jarnail Singh.

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