In the poorest state in India, Uttar Pradesh, most villages are located far from the power supply of the main grid. Families rely on kerosene lanterns for light and cooking, and the result is thick, black smoke when the lamps are in use. The smoke clouds the homes, resulting in poor air quality. Women and children who spend most of their time indoors are the ones who suffer the most. Even more dangerous is the risk of keeping kerosene in the home. Every year children die from drinking it.
Two American-born entrepreneurs, Nikhil Jaisinghani and Brian Shaad, began asking the question, “if given a reliable, non-toxic light source, could these villagers change their lives for the better?” Thus the solar-powered company Mera Gao Power was born and solar-powered micro grids arrived in Uttar Pradesh.
Families that sign up for the service with Mera Gao receive two to four LED lights and a mobile-charging station for their home. Only four solar panels make up the low energy system with the capability of powering 100 households with both light and mobile phone charging. After the initial set-up fee, the families pay on average $0.50 per week. Banks of four batteries help store the power for use at night. Because the majority of light is used at night, the battery packs are necessary to distribute the power evenly. Up to two days of power can be stored in the batteries.
Santram Pal, a father of four from the neighboring village of Chuck, was quoted in The Guardian. “I’m very happy with the lights,” he said. “Now my children can study at night and my house won’t go so black inside from the smoke. Thieves won’t come either.”
Through a generous grant from USAid, Mera Gao has enough money to invest in solar panels for fifty more villages. Mera Goa’s goal is to reach 100,000 households by 2016. The service based business model charges customers only for the power they actually use, keeping costs to the bare minimum.
What this means for the villagers of Uttar Pradesh is that they can now work longer hours to generate more income and extend their family life into the evening. Air quality increases, children can study and adults can pursue more educational opportunities. The risk of keeping kerosene is negated and the overall health of a family improves. Cheap, reliable green energy is bringing quality of life to some of the poorest people on the planet.
Photo Credit: PhotonEnergy via Flicker Creative Commons