An employee of the bakery in Mathura Bazar, Uttar Pradesh state, India.
The TECHNOLOGY TO HELP NGO'S MISSION.
Text by Thomas Deflandre
If you look around you’ll notice that we are surrounded by technologies. The last decades have been full of breakthroughs at such point that we don’t even talk about those findings anymore, there are so many innovations every day that media can’t follow and in the industry we had to create jobs with the goal to track them and identify which ones will enable the next killer features.
I used to be technology program manager so I can’t be neutral in this article since I do, myself, have a huge passion for innovation. I just completed Elon Musk’s book and I’m also convinced technologies help us to get an easier and better life.
I know a lot of people will disagree with my previous statement. Indeed, I also have to recognize that most of today’s pollution is coming from those first stages technologies. It’s a philosophical topic I’d be happy to discuss with you but let’s park it for the time being.
What we can agreed on is that by nature human is an explorer. Nowadays, people are busy trying to figure out a way to colonize March and during their race they have released a myriad of technologies.
Why not using those findings to improve quality of life to marginalized or disadvantaged people? Why not using those technologies to bring electricity to off grid areas?
Signify Foundation and TARA partnered to make this possible. Laura and I have visited two micro grid solar farms in Uttar Pradesh region and interviewed customers to understand how it works and the benefits of those solar farms to villages.
The micro grid powered by Solar Energy
Before to speak about the solar farm itself it’s important to understand how Tara Power did the site assessment.
First, it must be far from the capital, with a population of more than 1000 inhabitants, including a market in the surrounding and obviously where the electricity grid is not reliable. Those criteria are important to evaluate impacts it might provide and allow a sustainable business.
We have visited two sites : Mathura Bazar and Shivpura.
One solar plant can produce 45KW which is good enough to supply the village. Today almost 80% of the village get electricity thanks to Tara Power. We’ll come back to it later thanks to customers interviews but key reasons are the reliability and price since before the solar energy the only way to get reliable electricity was with diesel engines and it costs 30% more.
The set up of the plant wasn’t an easy task, the solar technology was also new to the Tara’s team and they had to learn on the spot how to bring efficiency and avoid overload. They are now experts and the only limitation they’re still facing is with batteries: how to stock more and longer? A lot of companies are working on this problematic and I’m sure we’ll get breakthroughs soon.
In case of vey bad weather or maintenance of the farm they also have a diesel generator. This is only a back-up system to guarantee 100% reliability to their customers.
Setting the grid is not only about the farm, they also physically built the grid with poles and high voltage lines. The village is now covered with 2 grids one from the government and one from Tara.
Why is Tara not using the government grid? First of all because they are not allowed, then due to its quality and finally they also need to distinguish their grid with customized electricity meters for their customers.
The range of customers is quite broad, during daylight public spaces (school, hospitals,…) and commercial units are the key users. However, in the evening households become the main users.
Interviews of customers
Building the solar farms was the first step then they had to build trust with people living in those villages and make sure they provide an answer to their needs.
As usual, nothing is better than meeting customers to understand why they’ve chosen Tara and how does it change their life. So we walked in the villages looking for persons to interview.
The first person we met is Mohammed Sargid, owner of the only bakery for the 75 surrounding villages.
Mohammed is not from this village and he didn’t know anything about bakery before but he decided to believe in the business potential of this isolated village.
The least we can say is it was a wise decision. He’s now a real entrepreneur of a company which employs 12 persons. His next ambition is to open a restaurant. The baker decided to buy electricity from TARAurja because reliability of electricity is crucial for his business as it was not possible to get it from the government grid. Before Tara he experienced a lot of power failures and had to use a diesel generator.
Another mentioned added value is the customer service, indeed he knows who to call if he has any troubles and Tara can fix it quickly which is mission impossible with government’s service.
Then we met Rajesh who manages a pump station at the exit of the village.
The location is at the edge of the grid and since the pump station needs 7.5KW they decided to build up a local solar farm dedicated to the pump station. The funny thing is that even for the pump station using solar electricity is cheaper than diesel engines.
Later we also discussed with a cheese factory manager and a doctor.
They all mentioned they couldn’t run their business without reliable source of energy and recognized the great customer service and reactiveness of the Tara team.
This is a strength of Tara, they’ve built trust with their customers. They have people on site and therefore they can quickly react and support if needed. When you are in those isolated areas you can’t expect such services and it makes a huge difference.
A worker making paneer, a kind of cheese, specialty from India.
The practice of the doctor in Shivpura.
To conclude, yes technologies can be used to enhance life in disadvantaged areas. Signify and Tara by providing solar energy to those isolated villages have changed life of thousands citizens.
I mean they have access to electricity 24/7, for a more attractive price. But to me what’s the most valuable is how reliable electricity allowed to attract local businesses and therefore developed the villages. A doctor, a bakery and so many other services are growing where few years ago people were leaving villages to cities with the hope of a better life.
I can’t close this article without a big kudos to Debasis, Vikash, Shivan and Lakhan who helped us organizing this reportage.