By Elisa Lai and Makena Ireri, Senior Associates, CLASP, Co-Secretariat of the Efficiency for Access Coalition
About 25 million households in India live without electricity, and many electrified households have unreliable power supply. India is one of the fastest-growing off-grid markets. According to GOGLA, 30% of the global volume share of standalone solar products were sold in India in 2018 — it is the world’s single largest market for portable lanterns. The solar market in India is quickly shifting focus on solar lighting to larger productive-use applications. In 2018, the Government of India announced an ambitious target to deploy more than one million solar pumps by 2022.
To understand more about Indian consumers and their use-cases for productive use applications, Efficiency for Access conducted a series of field visits in rural Bengaluru with the SELCO Foundation in February 2019. We traveled to pilot sites and met with off-grid and weak-grid customers to learn more about their experiences with productive-use appliances, including refrigerators.
Indiganatha is a rural hamlet located in The Male Mahadeshwara Hills (MM Hills) with no access to grid electricity due to its location deep within a forest. Indiganatha is best known for its sacred temple of Sri Male Mahadeshwara, an important Shiva temple and religious pilgrimage site. While in town, we visited a small shop that sells snacks and beverages near the temple. The shop’s location was very remote; it could only be reached on foot. The shopkeeper, Eeranna, owns the only solar refrigerator in the entire village, a 240-liter Phocos refrigerator installed by the SELCO Foundation. Eeranna and his family sell cold beverages to pilgrims and tourists. On a typical day, the shop can sell about 15 bottles of cold beverage and generate 300 Indian Rupees (INR) in income. When Eeranna installed a solar home system in his shop, he also spotted a new business opportunity to offer customers mobile phone charging for 10 INR per charge.
Purchasing a solar refrigerator was a huge financial investment for Eeranna and his family. Through a Self Help Group (SHG), Earanna and his neighbors pooled their money together so he could purchase a refrigerator. The SHG served as a guarantee for Earanna to obtain a loan from a micro-finance institution. Eeranna procured an 80,000 INR loan for the refrigerator with a 2.5 year repayment period. While the 80,000 INR loan seems significant, selling cold beverages and phone charging services allowed Eeranna to earn more than 60,000 INR in six months. Eeranna was eventually able to pay back his loan early. Now Eeranna and his family are now looking into other off-grid appliances, such as a mixer to make and sell fresh juice in their shop and a grinder to prepare Dosa/Idly batter.
The next day, we visited two more customers, Thipperudrappa and his mother. Thipperudrappa is a road-side food truck entrepreneur who sells drink and snacks drivers at a toll plaza on the busy National Highway 4, which connects two major cities in the state of Karnataka, Bengaluru and Chitradurga. Thipperudrappa installed a 100L Devidayal DC refrigerator/freezer on his truck in order to sell cold food and beverages, and reduce financial losses from food spoilage.
Thipperudrappa’s mother described milk spoilage as the primary motive to purchase the new refrigerator. “Milk spoils very quickly in the summer, and once it does, we cannot sell it.” The solar refrigerator helps extend the product shelf-life of milk and other beverages, which in turn improves earning potential. Thipperudrappa’s mother told us that her income has increased since purchasing her DC refrigerator/freezer. On average, she sells 25 liters of beverage per day. The solar panels installed on her food truck serves as a free advertisement — people come to the truck and ask for the cold drinks when they see the solar panels.
The Efficiency for Access Coalition’s Off-Grid Appliance Market Survey 2018 identified off-grid refrigeration as one of the most demanded appliances across various sectors (agricultural, commercial and household). However, barriers like product availability, affordability and last-mile distribution continue to complicate the delivery of modern clean energy services to customers in rural India, like Eeranna and Thipperudrappa. Through programs like the Global LEAP Awards’ competition for off-grid refrigerators, the LEIA program aims to identify the best available cooling technologies and accelerate innovations in early-stage product markets.