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BW Businessworld

We Persevere To Provide ‘Clean Light To Every Child’: SoULS Team

However, significant challenges are posed when scaling-up and broadening the scope of the project. The most pertinent concern of the team remains to assure best quality service to every child in rural India whom we have served.

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Established in 2013, the Solar Urja through Localization for Sustainability (SoULS) team from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) believes that solar Urja (energy) is ideal for bringing clean energy into the lives of millions of rural Indians in a sustainable manner.

In an interview with BW Businessworld, the team has talked about its framework for sustainable deployment of technology in rural areas. Edited excerpts:

How is SoULS helping to promote sustainability and entrepreneurship among rural men and women?

SoULS realizes that in order to provide an off-grid solar solution for under-served rural areas, on a long-term sustained basis, higher order vertical integration is necessary. Vertical integration involves localization of the supply chain from manufacturing to after sales.

In order to realize this at the ground level, SoULS is capacitating local communities in owning and operating solar enterprises such as solar shops, managing supply chain network for solar products and even establishing manufacturing plants of solar components like PV modules, casing, and circuits.

A good example of this would be a small capacity solar PV manufacturing plant that will be set up in a small village in rural Rajasthan (Dungarpur) by July 2017. The local tribal women will own and operate the plant that will serve local markets at the district and the state level and create half-day employment for 60 local women (30 full-time jobs).

How is SoULS collaborating with Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and other stakeholders in helping achieve its mission and goals?

MNRE has been one of the chief funding partners in this journey of SoULS. The Ministry understood the strengths of pushing a sustainable model of deep localisation of solar energy, in a country where the grid solutions for energy have not stood up to test. Hence it has placed its confidence in the technical excellence that IIT stands for as well as the promise of the schemes themselves.

The Ministry has recognised with IIT-Bombay the designing and decision-making powers for a project of this scale and size and has funded the Million SoUL Program (MSP along with other funding agencies).

What are some of the projects underway under the umbrella of SoULS?

SoULS team has undertaken many paths to a single realization – that of large-scale deployment of solar technology was achieved in a sustainable manner. The 70 lakh Solar Study Lamp Scheme’s mandate is to make 70 lakh solar lamps available to students in the most underserved areas of the country and in the process develop practices like sustainability and entrepreneurship among rural men and women.

Another project called the Dungarpur Initiative is bringing a light and independence to the lives of tribal women of Dungarpur district in Rajasthan by facilitating training and entrepreneurial activities. The emphasis on adopting an ethic of Open Source Hardware has meant that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design of the Solar Lamp.

The 5 lakh Solar Urja Study Lamp Scheme supported by Idea Cellular and MNRE will be implemented in Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh Rajasthan, Manipur, Meghalaya and West Bengal. SoULS has also begun conversation with the Ministry of Rural Development to provide solar technology solutions to Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

What are some of the distribution channels SoULS employs to deliver it mission?

Through the flagship program—Million Solar Urja Lamp Project (MSP)—the SoULS team distributed solar lamps to 1,000,000 students from 10,900 villages across 23 districts of four Indian states in a short span of two years (2014-16). It trained more than 1500 rural people for assembly & distribution and nurtured 350 solar entrepreneurs.

SoULS oversees the training of manpower at the ground level through the Block Level Agencies’ (BEAs) which are local Cluster Level Federations (CLFs). These CLFs ensure the participation of the local community. These trained personnel are responsible for the assembly, distribution and campaigning activities at the block level.

What are some of the challenges faced by SoULS in creating decentralized clean energy and solar modules?

The SoULS team has developed a framework for sustainable deployment of technology in rural areas. The LAS (Localization-Affordability-Saturation) model evolving from the SoULS experience is useful in recreating solar solutions and is possibly universally applicable to provision of other clean technology based interventions in regions and communities where conventional solutions have failed.

It involves weaving sustainability (localization) into solutions such as provision of clean drinking water, clean cooking, health solutions and food production.

However, significant challenges are posed when scaling-up and broadening the scope of the project. The most pertinent concern of the team remains to assure best quality service to every child in rural India whom we have served.

Through its Solar Urja Lamp Projects, the SoULS team perseveres to provide ‘clean light to every child’ in remote, geographically isolated, rural households in India, thereby supporting Sustainable Development Goals such as affordable & clean energy and good health & well being.