TERI Uttam Urja

TERI Uttam Urja

Brightening rural India

A sales and service centre of Uttam Urja Products in a village in Uttranchal A sales and service centre of Uttam Urja Products in a village in Uttranchal

After a tiring day at office, when the better part of urban populace retires to the comfort of soothingly-lit living rooms and numerous entertainment gadgets, and waits for dinner being cooked in the kitchen, a larger part of rural India – immersed in darkness – continues to struggle with the never-ending daily chores, with women bearing most of the brunt.

When dusk descends, after a backbreaking day of labour, it is time for the rural woman to fix a kerosene lamp and poke some firewood into a fuming chulha to cook dinner. While the lamp barely lights up the place, both the lamp and the chulha fill up the house with hazardous smoke, putting at risk the health of the woman and also her children whom she tries to attend to while cooking.

Realizing how access to technology can tremendously change the lives of rural poor, TERI has launched the Uttam Urja programme to disseminate clean and energy-efficient technology for rural electrification. The programme, which has customized existing solar-based products to address users' needs and made them available to rural users, has successfully empowered villagers in Rajasthan and Uttaranchal with cost-effective, user-friendly, and sustainable energy options, by exploiting solar energy.

Uttam Urja

Persisting darkness

Of the 80 000-odd Indian villages that still await electrification, 18 000 can not be electrified. Where, on one hand, extending grid electricity to remote areas may not be economically viable or practically possible, the rising scarcity of fossil fuels, on the other, continues to hinder human development. In such a constrained context, RETs (renewable energy technologies) hold tremendous potential to usher in a sustainable energy option. However, due to the target-oriented and subsidy-driven programmes for RET dissemination in India, demand continues to outstrip supply.

Letting the sunshine in

Realizing that the effort needed a decentralized and locale-specific approach, TERI offered an alternative, namely the TERI Uttam Urja programme–customizing and disseminating solar energy products for rural electrification.

However, researchers at TERI had to face a big challenge to begin with–selling alternative products at their market price would imply stiff competition with subsidized counterparts. For instance, if government agencies offer a 35-Wp (Watt peak) DLS (domestic lighting system) for 6300 rupees in Rajasthan and 5200 rupees in Uttaranchal, why would a customer – who is perpetually constrained by lack of funds – buy a similar product that is priced at 13 000 rupees? TERI adopted an innovative approach that ensures customer satisfaction in terms of usage as well as costeffectiveness of these products. The products were customized keeping in mind the villagers' needs in specific situations, which the existing products – both the subsidized ones and the ones sold by private manufacturers – did not address.

Applications/benefits

Customization of solar-based technologies meant for rural electrification has

  • helped in 'lowering the price'– a 35–Wp DLS was now made available at 8700 rupees while other private manufacturers sold it for 13 000 rupees;
  • provided the rural customers with a 'menu of options', which subsidized products did not offer; and
  • made it possible to offer a reliable 'after-sales service' mechanism–quick and easy access to the technology was ensured by localizing the manufacture, repair, and replacement of components.

The villages where once life practically came to a standstill at sundown are abuzz with activities. The solar-based devices have illuminated the villagers' houses like never before–kerosene lamps are a thing of the past now. Today, infotainment is beamed into their huts through solar-powered television sets while solar fans provide respite from the sweltering temperatures of the summer. The danger of animal attacks is reduced, as animals avoid well-lit places. The improved indoor air quality has particularly benefited women and children immensely.

Most TERI Uttam Urja products are sold in the market keeping a profit margin for the stakeholders. By providing quality products at lower prices, they help deepen the market for RETs in rural India. Table 1 indicates how these products ensure financial benefits to the user. Moreover, due to need-specific customization, for many T E R I Uttam Urja products, there are no substitutes in the market.

Women are the key beneficiaries of the TERI Uttam Urja
programme

Women are the key beneficiaries of the TERI Uttam Urja programme

A realistic approach

50-Wp domestic lighting system   35-Wp domestic lighting system   25-Wp domestic lighting system
50-Wp domestic lighting system   35-Wp domestic lighting system   25-Wp domestic lighting system

To cater to the consumer demand for a larger DLS to power television sets and other domestic appliances, a large 50–Wp DLS was produced (the largest existing DCS was of 35 Wp). Continuing this mode of customization, smaller variants of the DLS (15 Wp, 18 Wp, and 30 Wp) and a lantern (3 watts) were developed help target a wider section of the rural populace. Other innovative products include the kisan torch; the LED (light–emitting diode) torch; and solar panels (2.5 Wp, 5 Wp, and 10 Wp) for fans, radio sets, and tape decks.

An important option placed before the villagers has been milk-churning device (madhani) that runs on solar energy. This has a revolutionary effect in the lives of rural women, as churning of milk can be done mechanically now, sparing them manual drudgery. Also, in terms of technological innovation, the milk–churning device was remarkable–this solar-based system is tuned to run a DC (direct current) motor in the process.

TERI's attempt to find sustainable solutions to problems of rural India was manifested in the customization of another low-cost, solar-based device–a 1680-Wp water-pumping system. Supplemented with a reliable distribution system devised by TERI, the system ensures safe drinking water and water for irrigation in water-stressed areas.

Clearing stumbling blocks

In order to make it easy for the villagers to avail of the clean and energy-efficient T ERI Uttam Urja products,

A sales and service centre of Uttam Urja products in a village
in Uttaranchal   TERI researchers demonstrating an Uttam Urja product
A sales and service centre of Uttam Urja products in a village in Uttaranchal   TERI researchers demonstrating an Uttam Urja product

the following buying options have been placed under the project.

  • Direct purchase
  • Loans through banks
  • Payment through instalments

During the loan period, major maintenance costs, such as replacement of battery and printed circuit board, are borne by the service provider. TERI has also established tie-ups with banks and SHGs (self-help groups) to finance the systems (Box 1). The kisan credit card – a government initiative – is another financing avenue for farmers.

An energy service network involving all stakeholders has been established to address local needs like people's purchasing power, communication methods, and constraints. Also, through tie-ups with local dealers, TERI has set up outlets in several places to ensure easy, local availability of the products.

Measures to finance TERI Uttam Urja products through banks

  • Hypothecation of the systems to be financed
  • 'No dues' certificate from the loanee
  • Insurance of the systems to be financed (to safeguard against theft or other casualties)
  • Help from T E R I Uttam Urja team in
    • certifying creditworthiness of customers
    • sending timely reminders for repayment
    • installing, repairing, and maintaining facilities
    • generating awareness
    • capacity building of local technicians and entrepreneurs
  • Group financing of systems (in groups of more than five) to optimize transaction cost card – a government initiative – is another financing avenue for farmers.

    An energy service network involving all stakeholders has been established to address local needs like people's purchasing power, communication methods, and constraints. Also, through tie-ups with local dealers, TERI has set up outlets in several places to ensure easy, local availability of the products.
Solar kisan torch   10-Wp domestic lighting system   3-Wp domestic lighting system
Solar kisan torch   10-Wp domestic lighting system   3-Wp domestic lighting system

Spreading the sustainable option

In the absence of any communication channel through which rural people could be convinced to adopt the solarbased, clean energy option, researchers at TERI provide training, information, and support in all vital areas – sales, repairs, and maintenance – to local, technical staff of the dealers, who, in turn, are trained in entrepreneurial skills. TERI's initiative has also made awareness generation among villagers a part of the process.

Also, the branding of the products was done carefully, emphasizing their quality and reliability so as to build the villagers' confidence in the technology: 'Uttam Urja' is Hindi for 'best energy', and the catch line in the logo, Ek rishta vishwas ka, meaning 'a relationship based on trust' reinforces it.

The energy service network that involves all stakeholders   TERI Uttam Urja products have eased off the pressure of
household work
The energy service network that involves all stakeholders   TERI Uttam Urja products have eased off the pressure of household work


Emergency light   5-Wp domestic lighting system   LED-based solar torch
Emergency light   5-Wp domestic lighting system   LED-based solar torch