Distributed Renewable Energy: Transforming Women’s Lives in Rural Bihar

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India has evolved from being a power-deficit country to having sufficient power. Further, the Central government’s Saubhagya Scheme is working towards ensuring complete village electrification by 2019. Public– private partnerships (PPP) can help realize that vision by plugging the gaps in the power-supply chain and providing clean, reliable, and affordable energy through distributed renewable energy (DRE). In line with this, and under its Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) campaign, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has built a partnership with Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society’s (BRLPS) JEEViKA programme through an innovative institutional model to make clean energy products affordable to local women-based self-help groups (SHGs). Till date, the programme has benefitted over 50,000 households across Bihar by providing access to solar home lighting systems (SHLS) and clean cookstoves.

The programme aims to complement the government’s vision of enriching rural livelihoods by providing reliable electricity to every household. Under this Public–Private–People Partnership (PPP) model, 60% of the funds are tapped from the savings of the SHGs of the JEEViKA programme, and the remaining 40% mobilized by TERI through grants and CSR funds. The programme beneficiaries—located across Gaya, Khagariya, Madhubani, Purnia, and West Champaran districts—suffer from erratic grid power supply. In Purnia alone, 28,261 households benefitted from the programme. TERI’s efforts not only helped upgrade the cooking and lighting systems of the communities, they also enhanced education and good health. Additionally, the programme also helped improve the livelihood opportunities through small enterprises, such as weaving, sewing, vending, etc., made possible due to the additional hours of lighting in the evening brought about by solar products.

Lacchmi Devi, a member of a SHG in rural Bihar, came all the way to Patna to tell her story. Under TERI’s LaBL campaign, SHG members like her bought solar home lighting and cooking systems from their weekly savings to complement the erratic electricity supply in their village. The increased hours of lighting in the evening brought about by the system meant her children could study better and for longer hours. “When they secured first division in their exams, other women (who were reluctant earlier) also got interested in the system,” she said.

Lacchmi Devi’s household is one of the over 50,000 in Bihar that has been provided clean cooking and lighting through an Integrated Domestic Energy System (IDES), a solar-powered solution designed by TERI that comprises a solar panel for charging battery to run two LED lights, a mobile charging point, and a forced-draft improved biomass cookstove that is more efficient as it consumes less fuelwood and emits less smoke. The IDES are made available to women SHG members through a unique financial model. Of the total cost, 60% is paid by the women in monthly installments and 40% is contributed by CSR funds and grants from bilateral/ multilateral donors.

TERI utilized the network of SHGs formed under JEEViKA to create livelihood opportunities across the supply chain of clean energy products. It trained and mentored around 20 local energy entrepreneurs (EEs) who procure IDES from accredited manufacturers, install them in households, and ensure maintenance with the support of a network of around 300 solar technicians also trained under the programme. While the average annual income of solar technicians ranges from Rs 36,000–Rs 50,000, EEs are able to earn Rs 5–Rs 10 lakh a year.

At a regional conference organized by TERI in Patna to share experiences on ‘Accelerating Rural Development through Enhancing Energy Access’ on July 17, 2018, where Lacchmi Devi came to share her story, the thrust was on moving forward and exploring new opportunities that can be tapped through decentralized renewable energy. The conference highlighted how ‘Public–Private–People Partnership (PPP)’ can be effectively used to provide universal energy access.

Archana Tiwari, State Project Manager, Social Development, JEEViKA, stressed on the need for the women to have a vision for livelihood enhancement through access to power for longer hours of the day. She suggested options such as opening online ticket booking offices or buying refrigerators for small shops to store products for a longer time. She also motivated cluster-level federations (CLFs) to create at least 500 entrepreneurs. With each CLF having around 2,500 to 3,000 households under it, she said that they have the biggest role to play in any progress. She also encouraged TERI to do a vision exercise with the women.

Speaking at the conference, The Energy Minister of Bihar, Shri Bijendra Prasad Yadav said, “Surveys show Bihar has high potential for non-conventional energy. We need new thinking and new approaches for this. There should be a survey on how we can generate solar power even in flood-prone areas of Bihar, and find out future possibilities that are realistic, keeping geographical considerations in mind.”

BRLPS CEO Balamurugan D talked about how the programme has led to skill development amongst women too. In collaboration with IIT-Bombay and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India, over six lakh solar lamps have been assembled by JEEViKA’s women, he highlighted. TERI also announced the establishment of the six-week TERI-ENVIS Centre Green Skill Development Training Programme, to be held in Purnia, Bihar. Supported by the MNRE, the programme will train 10+2 passouts and college dropouts as technicians to support solar industry implementation.

In conversations in the development sector, terms like ‘market creation’ and ‘livelihood enhancement’ may sometimes mask the endearing nature of seeing change in people’s lives right before one’s eyes. As M K Poddar, General Manager, Agriculture Insurance Company of India Limited—one of the CSR funders of the project said, “To see improvement of lives at the grassroots level with our contribution… it is a source of great joy.”

Article Courtesy: Ms Aastha Manocha, http:// www.teriin.org

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