Sustainable Development Goals
When the sun goes down in rural India, most signs of life disappear. Lacking electricity for even basic lighting, businesses close, children can no longer play outside, or even study indoors.
This is the reality for about 40 million Indians, who live in remote villages and lack reliable access to electricity. This is more than the total number of households in Europe’s biggest economy, Germany. The year 2022, has been earmarked for India to achieve ‘24×7 Power for All’. Achieving this target would mean electrifying more than 700,000 households every month.
Tackling this challenge head on, India has made steady progress in recent years. Data from the power ministry’s GARV-2 portal suggests that the Government has electrified more than three-fourths of the remaining 18,000-plus unelectrified villages since 2014. Recently, the Government has also shifted focus from village electrification, which required only 10 percent of the households in a village to be electrified, to electrifying every household.
Efforts are also being made by institutional and private enterprises in India to consciously tap into this source of energy and meet global environmental, financial and social challenges in doing so. A social enterprise like Simpa Networks, which began operations in 2014, is one of the many social enterprises tapping into the renewable energy potential of the country. Piyush Mathur, CEO at Simpa Networks says, “Solar-powered lighting and cooling dramatically improves the quality of life for families with limited affordability and promotes economic activity by enabling small businesses.”
Addressing the concern of energy source and its affordability, the solution they offer is the pay-as-you-go model for a flexible-use solar system. Simpa’s customers make a small initial payment to get a solar electric system installed at their home or business. Customers then purchase energy days using a prepaid or pay-as-you-go mobile payment system. “Packaging the solar device with point-of-sale financing helps people with irregular incomes avail the benefits,” he says. “We also provide doorstep after-sales service, which builds confidence and increases awareness amongst customers.”
“Simpa mimics the compelling pricing model of pre-paid mobile phones. These small payments add up towards the total purchase price and, once fully paid, the customer owns the system, enjoying clean, reliable, electricity for free,” adds Piyush. Once fully paid, the solar home system unlocks and delivers free electricity for the expected 10-year life of the product.
The model is enabled by Simpa’s patented technology platform. Simpa offers a range of Solar Home Systems, which start at 10W and go up to 600W. On the benefits of purchasing the technology, Pushpendra Singh Chauhan, a contractor from Rampur, Aligarh District in Uttar Pradesh said that he now has installed two panels and operates all his lights and fans through these. He is even considering going completely off the grid and solely on solar soon. The solar home system he possesses contains two 40W panels, three lights, one fan and two mobile charge points. The system runtime is 12 hours and has a 26Ah battery.
In addition to offering low-cost power, Simpa is also providing new economic opportunities locally. They employ about 500 people full-time, mostly employed as sales men and technicians in rural areas. They have also trained over 5000 ‘solar entrepreneurs’ or ‘Urja Mitras’, as they are called. These Urja Mitras are the local community members who sell the systems as well as guide the residents on usage. “It’s easier to find customers than it is to recruit and train Urja Mitras. “To address this, we invest in training and development programs for them and also incentivise them based on their performance,” adds Piyush.
Speak to Rakesh Chauhan, an Urja Mitra for the past three and a half years on the response from the customer and he says, “After seeing first-hand, the benefits of these systems, people are now purchasing them not only for their homes, but also for their commercial use.”
Since its inception, Simpa has sold over 7 million energy days, reached over 190 thousand people with clean power, generated over 2 million kWh of energy, and saved over 2,249 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Surfing the wave of their achievements, Piyush says that by 2019 they want to reach one million customers with solar rooftops.
On the role of the private sector in achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Piyush says, “The SDGs are deeply interconnected – progress on one goal can have a significant impact on progress in meeting others. This means that in order for India to reach its energy targets, we need to build strong partnerships with all stakeholders. This is where I see the UN India Business Forum play a key role in helping build a strong and renewed social contract.”