Right to Light – The Million Solar Urja Lamp Project
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‘Right to Light’ has been an issue pertinent to a lot campus residents, and some of them have been a part of an initiative that has reached the heart of our country as well its people. On the successful completion of the much-appreciated Million Solar Urja Lamp (SoUL) programme, Honorable MoS in the Government of India for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Piyush Goyal, visited the institute on Sunday, 2nd July.
The Million Solar Lamp program is headed by Prof. Chetan Singh Solanki from the Energy Science and Engineering department and Prof. N. C. Narayayanan from Center for Technology Alternatives in Rural Areas (CTARA). Prof. J. Venktesawaran from Industrial Engineering and Operation Research (IEOR) is also fully involved in the project’s planning and execution.
“One very important vision behind this project was that a school going child cannot and should not wait indefinitely for lighting solutions to come through. Setting up power plants does offer for a long term solution, but is not at all impactful in the short term. A power plant will take a minimum of 5 years to come up, by when a child studying in 5th would’ve completed his matriculation. A short-term solution for this was the need of the hour”, said Prof. Solanki while talking about his SoUL project.
On this occasion, one of great pride for the institute and the country, a felicitation cum exhibition event was held at the Victor Menezes Convention Centre (VMCC). Those involved in and responsible for the success of this initiative were appreciated and awarded for their worthy contributions to the society. The event was also attended by a few beneficiaries of this initiative – the children, whose lives were greatly affected by this project. An exhibition had also been put up with the purpose of giving people an idea of the on-going progress of the project, apart from disseminating other basic information related to this central government initiative. A few real-life models were also a part of the exhibits on display.
About The Million SoUL Programme
IITB had submitted a proposal to MNRE to further expand this project and implement it throughout the nation. The large-scale solar lamp programme addressed the issues of scale, speed and skill. The objective of the Million SoUL program was to provide clean light for study purpose to every child in the country in the fastest and most cost-effective manner. For this, our institute has partnered with NGOs having presence at the grassroot level. Solar study lamps were assembled, distributed, used and repaired by rural people. In order to achieve scale, the model was designed in such a way that it could be replicated in parallel in multiple blocks, across districts and states. For achieving speed, the assembly and distribution for any block was designed to be completed in 90 days. Rural people were trained to assemble, distribute and repair the lamps to target skill development
The programme was implemented from 2014 to 2016 with financial support from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Resources (MNRE), Government of India and other philanthropic partners like Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and corporates like Idea Cellular Pvt. Ltd. The programme has integrated IIT Bombay’s technical expertise in solar lamp technology, operations, concurrent evaluation and impact analysis.
In the span of 2 years, one million solar study lamps were distributed in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha, covering 23 districts, 97 blocks and 10,900+ villages. There were 54 assembly and distribution centres and 350 Service Repair Centres in operation with 1,409 trained manpower. It was committed to reach the most marginalized communities with its presence in 77% tribal blocks and 83% educationally backward blocks .
A survey conducted in 14,000 households under the MSP revealed that SoUL reduced household kerosene consumption by about 3.5 liters per year, which is around 9-10% of a household’s annual kerosene entitlement. SoUL has ceased usage of kerosene wick lamps for studying for beneficiary students, indirectly reducing its environmental and health hazards. It has created solar awareness in rural intervention blocks, giving people a first-hand experience and has encouraged them to use other solar products. Further, it was found that pass percentage in 10th class has noticeably (up to 10% points) increased from 2013-14 to 2014-15 in the tribal intervention blocks, as compared with tribal non-intervention blocks.
Address by the Chief-Guest
The event was graced by Hon. Minister of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy Piyush Goyal. The rain played spoilsport in delaying his arrival but it certainly did not dampen his nor the crowd’s spirits. He also recognized the work done by NCPRE and Prof. B.G.Fernandes, while stating that his department readily agreed to renew their contract. The current plan for distribution of 10 crore solar lamps in 3500 blocks is scheduled, according to Prof Solanki, to be completed within the next three years. Minister Goyal though went on to say that this could well and truly be completed in the next 300 days and set a target date of 23rd June, 2017. Another point which the minister emphasized upon was involving the use of more manpower in the form of students from IITs and other premier institutes by stating that they can change the women and people in these villages, make them entrepreneurs, train them etc and a workforce of 10000 should be appropriate. He also guaranteed an 1800 crore funding for such a project if they should be willing to work on it.
Every step towards independence, from owning a home to controlling your energy, gives you the freedom to make additional choices about how you live and own your own life. Going solar, is indeed the way forward. Insight would like to commend the efforts put in by the people involved in this project, both, from the institute, as well as the Government.
By Kewal Bhat and Karthik Sankaran