Distributed renewable energy transforms women’s lives in rural Bihar

25 Jul 2018

TERI-JEEViKA create market for clean energy access at the bottom of the pyramid; light up 50,000 households through self-help groups in Bihar

Rural Bihar
Creating awareness and generating technical knowledge was an important part of the programme.

Lacchmi Devi, a member of a self-help group (SHG) in rural Bihar, has come all the way to Patna to tell her story. Under TERI's Lighting a Billion Lives (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 per cent is paid by the women in monthly instalments and 40 per cent is contributed by CSR funds and grants from bilateral/multilateral donors.

Rural Bihar
The monthly instalment amount was set keeping in mind what the women could pay from their savings.

The LaBL campaign in Bihar has been run in partnership with Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society's (BRLPS) JEEViKA programme. TERI utilised 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.36,000-50,000, EEs are able to earn Rs. 5-10 lakh a year.

At a regional conference organised by TERI in Patna to share experiences on ‘Accelerating Rural Development through Enhancing Energy Access' on July 17, where Lacchmi Devi came to share her story, the thrust was on moving forward and exploring new opportunities that can be tapped through decentralised 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.

Rural Bihar
JEEViKA women were felicitated by Bihar's energy minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav who was the chief guest at the event.

Speaking at the conference, State Energy Minister 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," said Mr Yadav.

Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General, TERI, pointed out the need to build on the first phase of the project and to use energy access for livelihood opportunities, higher income, and overall development of the state.

BRLPS CEO Balamurugan D talked about how the programme has led to skill development among women too. In collaboration with IIT Mumbai and the Union ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), over six lakh solar lamps have been assembled by JEEViKA's women, he said.

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."