Did you know that many villages in our country still spend a major part of their livelihoods in complete darkness, despite having undergone the process of electrification? With an exception of two to three hours, the villagers have no choice but to spend the entirety of their time without any electricity, even after seven decades of independence.
Free Spirits Green Labs, a venture led by Nitin Saini and Rahul Talreja, installs solar micro grids that provides a steady supply of power up to eight hours in a day in the rural side of India.
Based in New Delhi, the organization has successfully installed solar grids in the village of Mujuri Naka in Maharajganj, Uttar Pradesh, this year.
Nitin Saini and Rahul Talreja during the installation at Mujuri Naka, Maharajganj.
With a dream of facilitating rural electrification during college days, Nitin finally was able to take a step closer towards achieving it, under the guidance of Dr. Kumar Krishen, who is a Senior Scientist at NASA and used to be a visiting professor at the Delhi College of Engineering.
In 2013, as part of research, Nitin had distributed small-scale solar products, like mobile chargers to the people in the village of Shamli. Since the village had scarce power supply, the products were readily accepted by the people.
Nitin and Rahul, who were classmates pursuing electrical engineering at DCE, went on to join the corporate world. But for Nitin, the persistent thought of rural electrification always remained. Shortly after, he met Rahul and together, they conceptualized the FS Green Labs. The only glitch at the time was time; for they could only work on the research and development post work hours. This included rounding up villages with bare minimum provision for power supply and consulting different NGOs that could help them on solar designs.
However, the passion and zeal they had for the project kept them motivated and soon they started spreading awareness about the need for solar products in the rural side through solar drives and workshops in colleges like Acharya Institute of Technology, Bengaluru.
Finally, sometime in 2016, they quit their jobs to dedicate themselves completely towards the cause.
The first project was where FS Green Labs provided the villagers with repair and maintenance training. This was done in collaboration with Indian Project, a Swiss NGO, where they were delegated the work of training and electrifying a small rural region in West Bengal.
“Here is where we figured that something was amiss. All the installations were done perfectly. But the villagers had absolutely no idea how to manage or maintain it, largely due to the lack of awareness of the system,” Rahul says.
That’s when they realized that more than the colleges where they were giving lectures; it was in these villages that proper solar awareness workshops were necessary. “Also, most of the companies that sold solar products focused only on urban sections in the country; this made us all the more determined in getting the solar technology to the villages,” he adds.
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But nothing comes easy. The problem of maintenance still persisted. “We wanted to implement something that could track the performance of the installed micro grid, spot or predict failures and conduct possible maintenance; that way not requiring any one of us actually going back to find the issue,” Rahul says.
Post their first project introspection, they decided to change their modus operandi from just helping install solar systems in rural area to an effective mode of communication and maintenance.
“We planned on training few people from every village where we put up the grids who could manage and maintain the system”, Rahul says.
A resident in the Mujuri Naka village post installation.
Also, to establish a free flow of communication between the system, the person from the area and the company, we decided to include a smart cloud-based management and analytics platform named TrackSo that could be controlled remotely,” he adds.
At the beginning of this month, Mujuri Naka in Maharajganj finally had electricity for more than three hours a day, without hindering household chores or study time for children. Previously having used a diesel generator that proved very expensive, since most of the people living in this region were either farmers or worked in micro-enterprises, the sustainable solution of solar grids helped close to 300 families in the area. A major chunk of the project was crowd-funded in collaboration with the Milaap Foundation.
FS Green Labs now plans on covering more villages in UP and stretching out to other states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Also, the team has been exploring the possibility of solar water pumps and the impact they could have in the rural region and plans on pitching the idea to various state governments, from where it could be taken forward.
To get in touch with Free Spirits Green Labs, click here.