A Letter From Odisha
Scene co-Directors Alex Schlicke and Vijay Bhopal to visit Odisha in February to assess progress to date and opportunities for further development of their project to support energy access in this remote rural area of India.
Solar at the ‘Base of the Pyramid’
India is seen internationally as a model for alternative energy pathways. The Indian government aims to deploy 2000MW of off-grid power by 2022 and is pursuing some of the largest off-grid renewable energy deployment programmes in the world. At the same time, the Indian government has ambitions to increase broadband and data connectivity in the country, announcing its intention to bring the Internet to 600 million citizens by 2020.
Over the last 3 years, Scene – an Edinburgh-based social enterprise http://www.scene.community – has been working in the Indian state of Odisha, supporting off-grid renewables in un-electrified communities. Often referred to as ‘the base of the pyramid,’ the project aims to support rural, low-income communities and families. It is the culmination of years of research and collaboration to provide innovative market-based solutions in areas where they can create the greatest impact in terms of energy access and equality.
An Energy Problem
The past decade has seen a rapid diffusion of solar photovoltaic technologies that harness the power of the sun to generate electricity across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These include solar home systems that have been placed in communities through large-scale government-funded programmes, as well as expanding markets for small-scale appliances. Providing off-grid energy to communities previously reliant on dangerous kerosene lamps, many of the programmes have been found to have hit a block in the road.
In Odisha more than 200,000 subsidised off-grid solar installations have been deployed at community or household level, yet our research shows that the majority of these installations function effectively for between 6 months and 3 years, before malfunctioning or being discarded.
The key challenge has been to develop effective maintenance and repair services, which has remained dispersed and remote due to the nature of demand, the lack of consumer awareness, and the low income of rural end-users. By providing existing renewable energy technology with an extended life sustains access to energy, and creates new livelihood opportunities for service providers.
A Local Opportunity
Named ‘Urjaa Samadhan,’ Scene, alongside University of Edinburgh and several Odisha-based partners, designed and developed a suite of mobile and web applications to be used in remote and low connectivity areas. Providing a means to contact service providers through SMS or missed calls, users get easy access to repair services which can greatly increase the longevity of their energy appliances.
Alongside enabling service provision, Urjaa Samadhan allows solar entrepreneurs access to a large aggregated market, as well as providing a monitoring tool for entrepreneurs and businesses. This type of livelihood creation is essential in maintaining the legacy of the Urjaa Samadhan project, and turning a supported enterprise into a viable and locally appropriate solution.
Lastly, Urjaa Samadhan addresses the lack of product and parts access for service providers, as many manufacturers will not sell small volumes to local entrepreneurs. By aggregating demand, and providing an online store to Odishan solar enterprises, the platform enables effective ordering and distribution of previously hard to source spares.
Scottish Support Abroad
Bringing together an international project, marrying Scottish and Indian expertise, capabilities and funding has not been a simple task. But Urjaa Samadhan fits in with a growing trend of technology co-development, beyond the scope of simple ‘technology transfer.’
Co-development has brought a host of benefits to the Urjaa Samadhan project, ensuring that local, regional and national stakeholders all get their say. Bringing research from the University and the ambition of entrepreneurs from both nations, to ensure a locally specific and needs based project is implemented. Not just to the benefit of local and international businesses, but to the benefit of those who need support such as this, and towards a greater solution across state and national boundaries.
To find out more about the Urjaa Samadhan project, please visit the website www.urjaasamadhan.com
The ‘Solar Fix’ film, produced by Edinburgh University provides an overview of the problems with solar maintenance and supply in Odisha, including the views and thoughts of several pilot organisations for the Urjaa Samadhan platform http://solarfixfilm.net/