Almitra H Patel is member of the Supreme Court Committee for Solid Waste Management for Class 1 cities. The following is an open letter written by her to the Petroleum Ministry during this year’s budget session on the need to switch over to Off-Grid Solar Lighting systems with portable LED lights as opposed to the traditional kerosene lighting practices. The letter explores the ramifications of the same on the environment, economy, and society.
Dear Shri Dharmendra Pradhan,
OFFGRID SOLAR LIGHTS CAN REPLACE KEROSENE AND INCREASE GDP
Greetings. It is my pleasure to give you samples of very affordable superb quality portable solar LED lights for off-grid lighting which can transform the lives of 7.25 crore households, currently using kerosene for lighting, vulnerable to fire hazards and smoke pollution. This 7.25 crore constitute 43% of India’s 16.8 crore rural households.
Each family spends about Rs 100 a month for 3 litres subsidized + 2 litres black market kerosene.
With today’s efficient solar panels, bright white LEDs and innovative engineering, this can be replaced by a safe and non-polluting solar light which is 10 times brighter.
Each portable light costs just Rs. 150 and comes with a one-year guarantee. The expected life of the battery is over ten years, with a service of battery renewal available every 3-4 years.
If each household of the 7.5 crores families is given two to four of these personal lights, either free of cost or on cash transfer, at the total cost of Rs 2200 to 4400 crore, it will save the nation, a kerosene subsidy burden of over Rs 37,000 crore a year. Therefore, the reduction in lighting cost would generate a disposable income of Rs. 9000 crore a year (or Rs. 90,000 crore over 10 years) in the rural areas. This is also a straight saving of Rs 9000 crore every year in foreign exchange for kerosene not used. More, if one counts population growth over time.
There is another benefit of totally eliminating kerosene for lighting.
We will be able to not only eliminate the kerosene subsidy, but also keep a check on kerosene mafia and pollution caused by rampant kerosene adulteration of auto-rickshaw fuel.
The existing PDS quota for kerosene can be replaced by cash transfers to BPL card holders. Other added advantages of bright white light in homes include better academic performance and less dropouts when homework can be done after dark. Two extra hours of light and an additional income of Rs 500 per month can revolutionise womens’ lives. Clean lighting will mean less medical expenses, fewer hutment fires and less drudgery and hardship.
If these affordable lights, costing Rs 150 each including high Govt taxes, are also given to urban households that need them, there will be an enormous decline in diesel for widely-used gen-sets for light, saving even more foreign exchange.
These light samples and solar panels are all designed, developed and produced entirely in India by Thrive Solar, Hyderabad and One Child One Light. Since 2007, they have produced almost two million LED lights which are still in use. They also provide training to locals for servicing and repairing of the lights, especially in areas where more than 100 lights are sold. Their present production capacity is well over a million lights a year and they can rapidly expand as required.
Thrive Solar’s dream is to facilitate a thousand assembly centres- one in every district- including plastic moulding and panel production. These are to be run by Self Help Groups (SHGs) or micro-enterprises, generating widespread direct and indirect employment of around 5 lakhs each, thereby boosting the GDP. Thrive will only supply their sophisticated chip, which currently ensures 93% efficiency, in solar energy conversion, and long backup life with a full 8-hour sunlight charge: 8-10 hours for the Study Light and Mini light, and 200 hours’ backup on nightlight mode, 42 hours in normal mode and 11 hours in full-bright mode (for emergency surgery in PHCs etc).
If Rs 4400 crore for off-grid universal lighting saves the nation, Rs 37,000 crore a year, we can use these savings to give 2 crore solar pump sets to farmers. This will save 50000 MW of electricity, raise agriculture output by 15% and improve farm incomes. Solar irrigation for a second crop will control food-price fluctuations, benefiting the entire nation.
Development in India cannot take place in darkness. Solar lighting for removing this darkness is an extraordinary opportunity to benefit both the rural and urban India. This resulting popularity of solar lighting will yield political mileage to work harder for the nation and its citizens.
I am always with pleasure at your service.
The author is a member of the Supreme Court Committee for Solid Waste Management for Class 1 cities, and the Solid Waste Managemt Expert Committee, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike. She is also the advisor for Solid Waste Management, Solid Waste Mgt, Clean Jharkhand Project, and Ganga ICDP, Kanpur.