Eradicating energy poverty: Empowering lives with the SunDecember 31, 2020
Far sits the sun, shining bright on all of us. Under the sunlight everything seems so lively, people doing their chores by the shade, farmers ploughing the fields, the kids rushing back home in their uniforms. For our teen Simran, the story takes a turn when the sun goes down and Andhera looms over. She carefully walks home with her mates and elder brother, passing the dysfunctional lampposts. Streets become isolated, cattle go quiet and doors shut as the only source of energy becomes a candle lit by window side. This is not just Simran’s reality, this is the reality for many homes in rural India. Families live in abject poverty of electricity.
To bring everyone out of energy poverty, collective action by the community itself could be the simulator of change. With this aim, HCL Samuday aided the community of Hardoi to move towards harnessing power of the Sun; a cleaner, greener, more efficient source of energy. Solar energy is the way forward towards fulfilling the need for reliable and clean energy. Samuday’s community based solar intervention helped in creating a community owned sustainable, replicable and scalable model of solar mini-grids to fulfill the need of reliable energy.
As a first step, it was needed that people of Hardoi be aware of the invisible form of poverty they were subject to. It was realised that simply uprighting an electrical pole or wiring a home was not enough; simply having a solar panel or a solar grid was not the final solution to the problem. People had to not just benefit directly from electricity, but also had to be capable enough to sustain the created infrastructure. Knowledge was disseminated through awareness drives and community discussions to show solar energy’s viability, relatively better output as compared to conventional means.
Thereafter, it was required to create systems that put this know-how to application; to harness Solar Energy to fulfill power needs of villages across Hardoi. HCL Samuday undertook the following initiatives:
1. Village electrification – Solar mini-grids were established using state of the art technologies and were remotely controlled and monitored. Samuday created a solar mini-grid ecosystem where operation and maintenance would be done remotely thus maintaining the efficiency and efficacy for filling the needs of the community and its institution. Homes were then connected to these solar mini grids. Families willing to take electricity connections were connected to solar mini-grids with the help of Internet of Things based smart meters to provide affordable and reliable energy as required by a household. All of this happened in the most productive hours of the day defined by the villagers themselves. A Solar User Group (SUG) of the village members was created to which the solar units were later transferred. Samuday worked doggedly to build the capacity of SUGs for ensuring economic and social sustainability of these solar mini-grids. A modern training center was also established to provide training on solar energy systems to youths from the communities in the intervention areas.
This created a self-sustaining structure that helped increase the energy availability meanwhile working on social upliftment and job creation for the village community. The payments started getting collected and were later deposited in the bank account of SUG which would be used in near future for operation and maintenance of these solar mini-grids.
2. Rooftop electrification – 12 public health centres earlier working on unreliable sources of electricity were connected with solar panels mounted on the roofs so that primary healthcare activities could take place. This initiative also made it possible for those in urgent need of medication to be consulted through Telemedicine facilities and get support without much difficulty.
3. Electrification for Schools – Standalone solar roof-top systems were used to electrify educational institutions across the 3 blocks of Hardoi. Electrical energy was made available for schools, so that laptops and other basic appliances could function. With smart classes functioning, student enrolment in these schools started rising.
4. Micro-enterprise development (MEDs) – Local micro and medium enterprises were suffering from the grave challenge of unreliable electricity and their operations were totally dependent on conventional sources of energy. This not only led to an increase in the operational cost of these enterprises but also impacted the environment in the form of carbon emission. Samuday realized the need of reliable energy and decarbonizing these enterprises. To provide reliable energy and to decarbonize the operations, these enterprises were connected to solar mini-grids after sundry technological interventions and innovations. Various business owners could now establish their own dairy units, flour mills, husbandry centres and more. For them it was a golden opportunity, to not just maximise their profits and reduce operational costs, but to contribute towards a greener society.
The participation of the community in this journey is the real metric of development. Significantly, it was never about installing a solar grid or lighting a bulb, it was about enabling people of Hardoi to find sustainable and innovative solutions to their problems themselves. This is what Empowering lives means. It’s not about just lending a hand to someone in need, but to support them to help themselves and further everyone else.