Clean Tech

A bit of shine after the Sun is gone

Preeti Mehra | Updated on May 29, 2020

Bright, not sunny Ram Lallan gives out lanterns to rent

Priti Kushawa conducts a tailoring class PREETI MEHRA

Villagers are turning entrepreneurs by renting out their solar lamps

Ibrahimpur duli village in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad district is on the electricity grid. But the power here is erratic.

“It comes only at night around 9 or 10 pm with frequent shut downs,” says 54-year-old Ram Lallan who along with his wife Kusma Devi runs a solar enterprise to offer off-grid technology solutions to consumers in the region.

The couple own 100 solar lamps which they charge during the day through solar panels and hire out to villagers for the night so that work in the farms and homes can continue after sun down.

Yellow and attractive

The attractive yellow painted lanterns provide light equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent bulb that lasts for four to six hours. Hired out at ₹5 per night, it gets used for a variety of chores in the homes and outdoors in the farms.

Thirty-two-year-old Priti Kushwaha from Mustafabad in Unnao district runs a similar enterprise with husband Krishan Kumar. Their 60 lanterns are hired out every night at ₹4.

“Initially we were giving them at ₹2 per night, but maintenance and repair costs us quite a bit so we have upped the charge,” says Priti whose family now earns between ₹4,000 to 5,000 through the venture. “Many shop owners hire the lights to keep their establishments open till late at night. Even the atta chakki (wheat flour grinding) can continue. There is a lot of saving of kerosene oil. I now also hold stitching classes for young girls at night, after work in the fields is over.”

Lallan, who was a driver in a local company for 30 years before he took to this vocation, spells out other uses for the humble solar lantern. “Many farmers hang one or two lights on the edges of their land at night to shoo away visiting herds of neel gai that rampage through the fields. Some use it to continue wheat harvesting activity after dark. Children use it for studying and women for their many chores.”

A father to 11 children, he recalls how several years ago while on his driving job he encountered a person carrying a whole bunch of lanterns. Thinking these would be of great use in the village, he made contact and from then on it was a change of occupation for him.

Introducing rural communities to solar lanterns is part of the Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) programme by TERI to provide sustainable energy in areas where 24X7 electricity was proving to be a problem. The enterprising driver decided to be part of the solution. For ₹30,000 he initially bought 50 lanterns, five 50 watt solar panels and a 250 watt solar rack. Through this he could charge all the 50 lanterns during the day and return them to the villagers at dusk.

More support

Lallan's wife soon joined the micro-enterprise and chipped in with another 50 lanterns. “With 100 lanterns to charge, we have a lot of work to do. As our village is very large and a lot of walking is involved, parents send the lanterns in the morning for charging through their children who walk via our house to their school. On the way back home, the kids pick up the charged lanterns for use at night.”

Going forward, Lallan plans to open an energy accessories store where he will keep several clean products including cook stoves, LED bulbs, solar lights and inverters.

“This energy enterprises model includes training of the entrepreneurs. Ram Lallan, for example, can replace the batteries and switches and has learned how to detect faults. So he is able to maintain the lanterns and panels,” chips in Akif Farooqui, Deputy Manager, Social Transformation at the LaBL project, who works in Lallan's district.

The LaBL programme has developed a cadre of Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) over the past nine years in 23 states in India, and 13 other countries in Africa and South Asia. It organised its first conference this month in New Delhi to take stock, re-think the path forward and intensify its role.

However, what works for Lallan, Priti and thousands of other VLEs is the sustainable livelihood they have found.

Published on April 26, 2016

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