Bright lights, big cities
A not-for-profit solar-energy organisation is bringing light and hope to those living in Indian tent cities with no access to electricity.
One in four tent-city residents rely on candles, kerosene lamps and fires for light, cooking and warmth, and these forms of energy are expensive, dangerous, low quality and highly polluting. The situation is expected to worsen as the number of people living in urban slums rises: India’s cities are predicted to be a gateway for 100 million economic migrants in the next 15 years.
UNSW alumni Ben Merven and Monique Alfris, who studied at the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, are two of the co-founders of Pollinate Energy. Established just over two years ago, Pollinate Energy provides those with no electricity access to affordable solar products, including battery torches, desk lamps, room lights and hanging lights. It says purchasers earn back the initial cost of a solar lamp within weeks, as they no longer need to buy expensive kerosene or firewood.
Pollinate Energy began its operations in the slums of Bangalore and expanded to Hyderabad in September last year. By late 2015 it hopes to achieve a multi-city expansion and eventually provide products in every major Indian city, serving millions.
Its first Fellowship program of the year began on February 2, and the Fellows have since opened a local office and residential space for the purpose. December Fellows who joined as interns have helped shape the February program, putting their experience to good use. “They powered through connecting the grid and getting all amenities up and running,” says Pascal Meline, one of Pollinate Energy’s Hyderabad student Fellows. “The Fellows have taken on the massive challenge to help navigate through the complex Indian procedures and paperwork required to get Pollinate Energy registered in the state of Telangana.”
The program includes cultural insights and language lessons to build trust and rapport with the locals. “Their perfect knowledge of the city, the culture and the language matched to great people-management skills, patience and perseverance provides the Hyderabad Pollinate team with a huge boost,” says Pascal.experience to good use. “They powered through connecting the grid and getting all amenities up and running,” says Pascal Meline, one of Pollinate Energy’s Hyderabad student Fellows. “The Fellows have taken on the massive challenge to help navigate through the complex Indian procedures and paperwork required to get Pollinate Energy registered in the state of Telangana.”
To get the project started, the team used “Pollinators” - local Indians trained by Pollinate Energy to sell solar lamps to local communities. In Hyderabad, students identified a potential Pollinator recruitment channel at a high-school graduation ceremony.
By using local salespeople to distribute and install solar-lighting systems, Pollinate Energy says its program goes beyond being a charity and becomes a sustainable way of supporting the population.
“We delivered a presentation and a promotional video filmed in local Telugu about job opportunities at Pollinate,” says Pascal. “Fifteen Hyderabadi students applied, with letters of offer to two exceptional candidates to join as Hyderabad’s first Pollinators.”
Every time Pollinate Energy expands into a new city, 20 Pollinators start their own business, reaching tens of thousands of people with clean and affordable products. Its next step is to pilot a social-franchise model.