Since the end of November I have been in India along with my colleague, Anna Harnmeijer. We are working on a project, seed-funded through the Scottish Government International Development Small Grants Programme. This is the first field trip in a three year long project which aims to pilot a communications solution to halt the decay of off-grid renewable energy projects in rural parts of the state of Odisha.
The problem definition and premise of our solution is explained properly here. In short we are looking to improve supply chain communications using SMS Gateway technology to ensure that local entrepreneurs are able to create profitable businesses from maintaining small-scale solar energy projects - leading to a situation in which repairing systems is viable. At the moment the expertise and parts required are often not available locally, leading to minor issues crippling projects and an inability for problems to be fixed.
From a UK perspective this is a fascinating problem. We are used to seeing standardised O&M contracts in projects that are usually the pride and joy of the communities in which they sit. The story is far different here. Most projects are largely or entirely private donor, or Indian Government driven, meaning that villages have systems given to them for free, or for a small part-payment. This leads to an uncertainty over who owns the systems and who is responsible for upkeep in the long term. Once initial warranty periods are over projects are left in precarious positions, with provision of maintenance services offered in a somewhat ad-hoc manner from the project donors and implementers.
Once illuminated, many of the people in the 19 villages we have visited so far, tell us that they now value electricity and would be willing to pay for their systems to be refurbished. Therefore, we hope to help implement a system that involves at least partial payment for services. We believe that the trick here is to make sure that the supply chains are localised and communications up and down the chain are easy and transparent.
This problem is being widely recognised by project implementation agencies and donors alike. We look forward to working with them to help ease the the issue, starting with a pilot project in 2015.
Below are some photos from our field trip to Mayurbhanj, Odisha: