The task of taking seven million solar study lamps to students living in some of the most backward areas of India is not an easy one. Therefore, even as there are suggestions to expand the scheme to other parts of the country, EESL is exploring new ways to broaden its vendor base to ensure smooth supply of components.
One can expect several challenges, especially if 7 million luminaires have to be distributed to light up the homes of schoolchildren living in remote areas. But it might not be very difficult if the programme is being driven by the state-owned, Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) and Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B). EESL is credited with driving India's ongoing LED lighting revolution, while IIT-B is among the first six institutes to be categorised as an 'Institute of Eminence' (IoE) in the federal Ministry of Human Resource rankings released in July 2018.
While IIT-B is the central agency for R&D and the overall execution of the scheme, EESL is responsible for procurement and distribution of lamp kits.
With 350 million people in the 10 to 24 age group, India has one of the youngest populations in the world. Erratic supply of electricity often affects the education of children, especially of those living in remote areas of the country. The Solar Study Lamp Scheme thus seeks to provide a clean alternative source of lighting that is independent of electric supply.
As a part of the programme, EESL is distributing solar lamps to school-going children in the states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha. According to the 2011 census, the household grid connectivity in these states is less than 50 per cent. They also have a sizeable number of families dependent on kerosene for their primary source of lighting. Successful implementation of the solar lamp scheme will also help in reducing the carbon footprint by significantly curtailing kerosene consumption.
The product, comprising a sleekly-designed lamp and a photovoltaic module to convert sunlight into electricity, can provide up to five hours of lighting on a single charge. The federal government has allocated Rs 4.94 billion for the scheme, which includes service charge of 1 per cent of the cost of the lamp to EESL.
"The students' response has been very encouraging, as they are excited to use a product that is not only simple to handle but also works well. At the same time, we feel that more awareness needs to be created among students to help expand the demand,"says SP Garnaik, Chief General Manager Technical, EESL. For this purpose, EESL is taking the help of its distributors called "Local Didis"(literally translates to "neighbourhood sisters") to accelerate the dissemination of the programme.
The programme is being run in three phases, with 2.2 million pieces already distributed at the conclusion of the first phase in June. EESL has targeted to distribute 2.4 million lamps each in the second and third phases of the programme. "Although the first phase took some additional time to complete, the target was successfully met,"maintains Garnaik. He attributes the delay to their trying to understand and develop an entirely new ecosystem and to the summer vacation in schools.
"But we are now trying to catch up on those numbers and, therefore, August, September, and October are going to be crucial months. Even if there is a delay, it will not be beyond March 2019,"informs Garnaik. Although he is still very hopeful of meeting the December 2018 deadline, the last quarter of the current financial year is taken as a buffer to tide over any more unforeseen delays.
Even as distribution is afoot under the second phase that concludes in October, procurement is already underway for the third and final phases of the programme. EESL bought the first lot of lamps at a cost of Rs 449, inclusive of taxes. The company was able to further reduce the cost of procurement for the second and third phases through bulk purchases.
Creating value proposition using 'Make in India'
Unlike the world's largest LED distribution programme, Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All (UJALA) that was launched by EESL in 2015, the solar lamp scheme is not so much in the supply mode. The company has tried to create a different kind of value proposition by using the 'Make in India' concept. Instead of trying to get the entire assembled product, it procures different parts of the final product, such as electronic circuits, frames, 1W bulbs, and solar panels as separate items. These are then dispatched to assembly and distribution centres located strategically across the target states.
There, local women folk, who had taken training in Mumbai, assemble the various parts. The lamps are then sold to students at a nominal rate of Rs 100 ($1.45) per piece, after checking a valid ID like their Aadhar card. The money collected from sale is spent on paying the wages of women involved in the assembly and distribution of lamps, while the balance Rs 300 is paid to EESL by the federal government. In case of failure, the lamp can be immediately replaced at a distribution centre. As per an internal assessment by IIT-B, the number of defective pieces currently stands at less than 1 per cent.
Expansion of the programme
Interestingly, the lamps also find other uses. Since the battery lasts for up to five hours at a single charge, it is also used by households while cooking or during community gatherings.
Garnaik is non-committal when asked if there are plans to take the programme to other states, though he is quick to add that they have been regularly receiving such requests. "It might be possible if we turn the business model into a separate vertical at EESL. We can then invest the entire money, instead of depending on the government. But there is a catch: if the cost is not attractive, the concept might not take off,"he remarks. He feels that the product might do well among urban consumers and in states with a higher per capita income. But then again, a concerted campaign would be required to inform consumers that the product may actually help them pare their electricity bill.
He declares that his team would do a final review of the proposal in November and, if found to be feasible, will take it up with the senior management at the company. He also reveals that they have held a discussion with a team from World Bank in New Delhi on the subject. "The project might be doable if we can get a line of credit from them,"he adds.
But before that, the company would like to address the issue of dearth of vendors. "When we talk about reaching out to another five million students over the six months or expanding the programme to other states, we need the participation of a large number of vendors. If on one level this programme serves students and other members of the society, at another level it also seeks to encourage vendor development,"asserts Garnaik. In his opinion, the primary reason behind the subdued response is the qualifying criterion that requires a very large volume of components. This has led EESL to make efforts to organise vendors into a consortium.
Meanwhile, some South East Asian countries have also evinced interest in the programme. But at this stage, those talks are at a preliminary stage.
- Manish Pant
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