India lives in villages’, despite tall claims still a large chunk of villages and small towns are enveloped in dark after the Sun goes down. As per Ministry of Power data, Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojna(RGGVY) launched in March 2005 has achieved the target of electrifying 105851 villages in advance and hopes to connect remaining 1909 villages any time sooner than later under its second phase.
However, the reality on ground tells a different tale. Nikhil Jaisinghani, alumni of Johns Hopkins and University of Virginia, decided to change the fate accompli as he initiated the solar powered micro grid in the villages in Sitapur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, 90 Kms from Lucknow. His solar powered micro grid, Mera Gao Power (MGP), provides low cost power supply to the households of un-electrified villages in the district. In the un-electrified villages, people depend upon kerosene for lighting and they travel to the nearby towns for recharging their mobile phones which cost from Rs 5 to Rs 10 along with travel cost and the time as well. Altogether, a household spends around Rs 150-200 on an average on kerosene alone.
MGP provides electricity to the people on priority basis, just for lighting and for mobile charging. “We provide these services to the households at lower cost with better service. We provide them 7 hours of power supply without any hassle” Jaisinghani said. He added, “For mobile charging and kerosene, people are paying Rs. 150 to 180 per month. But we charge Rs. 100 only for this service. Thus the village users get better but economical services.”
Currently MGP is providing electricity for basic services like lighting and mobile charging. However, Jaisinghani is hopeful to see his services growing in to revenue generating venture in the hinterlands. “We would like to see our services in income generating activities also. It could be agricultural processing. After connecting with our micro grid power supply, shopkeepers have been enabled to extend their business for three hours in the night. Some time even during the days’ time, shopkeepers need proper light and through our services now they can afford” Jaisinghani lamented. Besides, children get to study for longer hours in the evening with the advent of MGP services, the latter hopes to convert the services I to viable business as well.
Good economics seem to sail this model of services as a mere Rs 50,000 costs them to electrify 50 hoseholds . The cost includes that of equipments, labour, transport and all other inputs. An added advantage with the services has been that besides being cost effective the electrification is fast tracked. A village can be connected in a day with just a team of three people.
“We expect 50-60 per cent of households to opt for our services. The team of three people can electrify 30 villages in one month. If there are three teams, we can electrify 100 villages in a month. By adding more people, we can electrify more villages. By 2015, we expect to electrify 10,000 villages”, said Jaisinghani.
Currently MGP is providing micro grid electricity to 2500 households in 110 villages in Sitapur. For future course of action, the company braces for venturing in to other areas as well. “We consider Rajasthan and Orissa as potential market. But if we had an office in Rajasthan, another in Lucknow, we have to spend much time in travelling from one site to another. If the operations are limited in a small region and everything is compact within there, it is easy for us to operate things”, expressed Jaisinghani.
Ever since the MGP started its operations, it has failed to get any government subsidy or grant. Now they plan to raise equity from the market and raise funds from the banks and international lenders. The micro grid company hopes to expand its base in other countries like Bangladesh, Philippines and Indonesia. Philippines and Indonesia are developed economies but both are island nations, because of its topography, larger parts of these countries are not connected with national level power grids. Jaisinghani seem to be firm that these countries are the potential markets outside India.
MGP thinks the government regulations should be easy and time saving. It should not linger the process of initiating new projects as that makes the project dearer. “I wish to see how governments are creating more conducive policy environment. We spend lot of energy, time and money on getting our works done,” said Jaisinghani.
He added further “from Delhi to Lucknow, transporting goods across state’s border should not be difficult, we often have to waste our time and energy in paper formalities.” He believes that since the process is cumbersome and expensive, it affects the service delivery to the end consumers and the cost at the end and the consumers suffer. “If things are streamlined properly then at very cheap power supply can be possible in villages”added Jaisinghani.
Indian economy is abuzz with number of corporate making a beeline for starting their rural vertical and many of them have been successfully operating as well. They are coming with new and innovative ideas and empowering farmers in the country. It takes a different approach in serving the rural markets than serving urban.
‘Peace Corps ‘through which volunteers are sent to rural areas to work, have been started by Jaisinghani. He himself stayed in Nepal for two years in a small village that was two days walk away from the nearest road. That challenge made him wonder how people live in such conditions. “Over the years my business partner and I worked in the non-profit sector, we began to see that sustainability issues have not been solved in non-profit projects. We believe our commercial approach to have a much more sustained impact; but beyond that, because there are financial returns, the work we are doing to bring light to the lives of the poor is not just sustainable but scalable as well. That is what we are really excited about”, said Jaisinghani about his inspiration for working in rural areas.
In developing countries like India, there are still many untouched sectors that needed to be developed especially in the rural areas. It throws both challenges and opportunities.