This blog has been guest authored by Abhi Bhargava, a 4th year University of Edinburgh economics student. Scene were lucky to have him as an intern in summer 2015 and he joined Anna Harnmeijer on a trip to Odisha in November 2015, as detailed here.
Minutes after landing in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, we were off; our aim was to bring all of our planning and design of the Urjaa Samadhan system into implementation within a two week period. Myself and Anna, representing Scene, knew it was going to be an extremely busy trip from the get go, nonetheless, the trip was extremely fruitful. We are now confident in our project’s prospects for helping efficient after-sales repair of off-grid solar in India.
With the expertise of ekutir, our IT partners in Odisha, the Urjaa Samadhan application was ready to be used from the moment we arrived. However the first two days were spent in ekutir’s office finely tweaking characteristics of the application to suit fieldwork. Amidst debates and discussions regarding what features are necessary and which were not, we planned our extensive trip to the five solar entrepreneurs dotted around the districts Mayurbhanj and Koraput, who have agreed to participate in the pilot. We knew that only extensive testing of the application in the field would reveal the necessities of the application. After two days of constant changes and eureka moments, we were finally satisfied with the design and usability of the application. With promises to bombard ekutir with changes needed to be made from the field, we left Bhubaneswar in anticipation of testing 18 months of work.
Driving through the gentle hills of Mayurbhanj with the cool crisp air on our faces, we arrived in Karanjia to meet our first entrepreneur. After understanding their work and explaining the application to the entrepreneur and his technicians, we spent a long time answering questions about potential problems. Straight away we understood that there were still many changes to be made to thoroughly optimize the application.
Later we went to a nearby village to show the technicians the best method of data collection. It was fascinating to hear how the villagers used their solar appliances and their praises and complaints about the system. The contributions solar energy can make for rural families are extraordinary. Not only does solar energy provide light, extending economically-productive hours, but eases household tasks like cooking and for children doing homework, and quite simply allows for more entertainment to take place after the sun sets.
Our determination for application to succeed was cemented even further after our first field visit.
After the field visit, we proceeded to discuss our findings with the entrepreneur and technicians, advising them on the subsequent steps. Soon we were on the phone with eKutir about the changes needed to be made for our visit to the next entrepreneur.
The following day we were in a different town in the Mayurbhanj district, Thakarmunda, to repeat the process and a day later back in Bhubaneswar, with a day to reconvene with eKutir about our progress. Our success depended heavily on eKutir’s ability to deliver real time change, and we were not disappointed.
The next leg of the journey involved a beautiful train journey from Bhubaneswar to Koraput – one of India’s many stunning rail routes, which continues all the way to Chennai. In Koraput we visited three entrepreneurs and we negotiated what avenues would be most productive with each one. We also developed ways to further enhance the application, tailoring its abilities to ensure it would be relevant for all types of entrepreneurs.
Our last day in Bhubaneswar brought a sigh of relief for both Scene and eKutir, drawing to a close two intensive weeks of implementing constant changes and producing evaluations. The trip was not only extremely productive for the development of the application, but also allowed us to make meaningful working relationships with the solar entrepreneurs and technicians who contribute so much to their communities.
It is a rewarding experience to help improve efficiency and possibilities within the off-grid solar sector, and to hopefully make their task slightly easier. All we can do now is wait and watch how the pilot pans out for the entrepreneurs and the technicians.