Solar Energy Lamp Loans: A Milaap Product Worth Talking About
Four months back, I commenced my journey with Milaap starting from Singapore to Bangalore and ending up in rural West Bengal. However, what products and markets does the Milaap loan address? Let us have a look at the loans which I am evaluating- the ones allocated for the solar power lantern and the solar energy market. Both of them aim to rectify one particular problem- the severe electric shortages that plague India, particularly at the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid (BoP) segment of rural India. Out of a population of 1.2 billion people, approximately 450 million people live in absolute darkness. When night falls, they lack the privilege of having any access to electricity in their homes. Even those who are connected to the electric grid face perpetual intermittent electric power in the evening. In fact, power shortages in India are one of the highest in the world. A Federation of Indian Chambers and Commerce Industry (FICCI) report highlights that during non-peak periods, aggregate demand for electricity stands at 8,61691 GWh, while the maximum capacity of national electric infrastructure was only 7,88,355 GWh. In other words, the national electric shortage in India is almost 8.5%, reaching up to 9% during peak periods .In rural India, the consequences of such electric shortages can be considered catastrophic to thousands of village communities. Power cuts tend to occur daily, often lasting for hours on end. Life in the villages usually comes to a halt. Handicraft-employed villagers, who may work on embroidering saris, binding bags and wallets, among many other items, are unable to work. This is the same case for rural shopkeepers. Village school children, who need electric lighting to study at night, are unable to study. People are unable to walk around, not only fearing the inability to see outdoors, but also the increased chances of being attacked by predatory animals (e.g. snakes) and marauding dacoits (bandits). Ultimately, power cuts are detrimental to income generation, youth education and community safety.For the majority of rural Indian folks, the traditional alternative during power cuts has been the kerosene lamp. Though kerosene lamps are able to light up rural homes during power cuts, they are hazardous-prone. Kerosene lamp users are often in danger of breathing in the noxious fumes created by the lamps. Many users end up suffering from eyesores, eyesight deterioration and respiratory ailments, such as lung cancer. Children are unable to study under such lamps because the lighting is too dim. And people risk their hands and other body parts being scolded by burning kerosene oil, whenever the lamp is accidently spilled. This same danger applies to all kerosene lamp users, including shopkeepers and housewives, the latter usually finding them useful for cooking, albeit the dim lighting emitted.As such, kerosene lamps are becoming increasingly unpopular. People are now looking for modern energy technologies that not only provide proper lighting during power cuts, and do not pose any of the risks associated with more archaic kerosene lamps. As solar energy lamps meet these expectations, they are now in increasing demand throughout rural India.Milaap recognises the value and viability solar energy lamps provided to the rural Indian BoP demographic. Milaap believes that it can contribute to social and financial in rural India. In order to start achieving this, Milaap teamed up back in 2011 with the MFI, DCBS, one of its field partners, to give loans for solar power lanterns to women in the villages of rural West Bengal, where there is high demand for this product (Note: Milaap also has a partnership for energy loans in Odisha with the Mahashakti Foundation).The solar power lanterns provided are the Sunking Pro model, manufactured in Mumbai, India, by the American company, Greenlight Planet (GLP). To date, DCBS has disbursed over 10,000 Milaap-financed loans to women across 160 villages in West Bengal, exclusively in South 24 Parganas District. The mean monetary size of each loan is Rs. 2, 230. The total value of the loans disbursed so far has been R.4, 590,000. Milaap has been fortunate to still have a 100% repayment rate on all loans.[caption id="attachment_1883" align="aligncenter" width="800"] A typical Sunking Pro model solar power lantern being used by one of Milaap's borrowers.[/caption]Statistics aside, the solar energy lamps, which are purchased by women borrowers with Milaap loans, have been qualitatively beneficial to their lives and those of their families.The most common benefits entail providing bright light during evening power cuts, which enable the women borrowers, many of whom being handicraft workers or shopkeepers, to work; pursue their evening domestic household chores; while giving their children, who attend school, to study properly at night. In fact, studies indicate that for every US$ invested in clean alternative energy sources (in this case, solar energy lamps), there is a US$15 yield in savings and productivity.Families sometimes use the lamps as a torch at night if they need to go outdoors. They are more confident doing this now because they can counter predatory animals and dacoits.Furthermore, solar lamps do not pose any of the health hazards associated with the kerosene lamps, while providing bright lighting (which the kerosene lamps fail to deliver). The borrowers and their families are particularly happy with this prospect. When interviewed by the Milaap and DCBS teams, they all mention the contentment of pursuing their evening activities under bright lighting without the danger of poisonous fumes or getting their hands burnt.The borrowers are being provided a clean alternative technology. After all, solar lamps and solar energy holistically do not damage the environment, unlike some of the more mainstream energy sources.Overall, Milaap loans for solar energy lamps have improved the lives of borrowers and their families, by enabling improvements in school studies and higher income generation, and remaining healthier.For me, it has been a pleasure to be involved in facilitating the process of Milaap’s solar energy lamp loans in rural West Bengal. I can see the positive impact it is having on the lives of the borrowers with whom I have interviewed. You, yes you, can also help us light up someone's life.