I’m not sure how four days have passed. One was lost to United Airlines, who lost my luggage, my connecting flight, and my sanity. One was lost to the Lansdowne Hotel, an illustrious tribute to white privilege and expensive breakfast. One was lost to the time zones, the black holes of that fourth dimension. The fourth, however, is difficult to place. Maybe it was spent in sleep, dreaming of the adventure to come. Or in anger, writing to airline customer service representatives that did not exist. Or perhaps in retrospect, thinking about the things I left behind. Either way, four days have passed and I have yet to lay eyes on my objective. My initial anxiety and apprehension are gone, as are my elation and excitement with the unknown. Now I am here. It is hot, of that I am sure. The people speak a language that I do not understand. The streets are chaotic and the air is unappealing, yet I am not uncomfortable. I have arrived and that is all that matters.
April 18 continued…
Tonight I had my first Indian dinner at the bungalow. I made several Indian friends (Danesh, Mohmudd, Munish, etc.), all about the same age as myself. They told me they were there to participate in a workshop that would prepare them for their careers in pharmaceutical sales. They were from all over the country. One was from Kashmir, one from Hyderabad, and the other three were from cities I did not recognize. Two were Muslim, but the majority of them were Hindu. They were fun and engaging. They spoke broken English and were very interested in American culture. We shared stories, them of their homes and me of mine. They were especially interested in American cuisine, so I shared my peanut butter with them and told them about Chicago style pizza.
Last night, I met with Anurag Bhatnagar. He is the conduit from which SEWA operatives get their energy and direction. On departure, my understanding of the project was that I would be working on the Hariyali Green Energy Initiative of SEWA through which efficient cook stoves and solar lights are to be deployed to members. I was expecting to address the following questions:
1) How do we insure the quality and reliability of the products over time?
2) How do we contain the costs of the products over time?
3) How do we ensure the interoperability of the parts sourced from multiple manufacturers?
4) How should we deal with any carbon credit or other benefits that may accrue to the members?
5) How should we handle returns, repairs and other maintenance issues?
6) What should the terms of the financial lease be in order to ensure its viability over time?
Anurag has informed me that I will be working primarily on Quality Assurance for the Hiryali program.
It is envisioned that the SEWA Hariyali Energy solution will have several components:
1) a solar panel to capture solar energy
2) a battery to store the captured solar energy
3) a lantern for indoor use
4) a torch-light with rechargeable batteries for outdoor use
5) a mobile charging outlet
6) an efficient cook stove
Today we leave for a “not so poor” village near Mehsana to experience how our cookstoves and flashlights are used on the front lines. Anurag says that he is concerned that the chargers for the cookstoves have been burning out. He also feels that the durability of the solar lights may become an issue.
On our way to the village, we stopped to visit with SEWA members in a nearby town. The women discussed potential problems with the cooker. As expected, cost was the prohibitive factor. We took two of the women with us to the village to demonstrate the product.
The village had approximately 300 homes, 200 of which were members of SEWA. At the presentation, the women did most of the talking, discussing the advantages of the stove, which uses gasification to burn a small amount of biomass very efficiently. The stove needs some electricity to power the small fan required for gasification. This energy can come from the grid (Gujarat has great electricity infrastructure, even in the villages), batteries, or a solar panel. We also showed the solar light, which can be used as a lamp or a torch. It is charged with a solar panel or from the grid.
It is a difficult concept for many people to grasp that paying for a solar cooker is better than paying nothing for firewood. The health and environmental benefits are not recognized right away. Also, cooking with firewood provides food with a certain flavor that electric stoves cannot replicate. The men of the village are the ultimate decision makers and if their food does not have a smoky taste, it will influence their decision. We feel that this factor gives our product a competitive advantage over electric stoves.
April 20, 2012
Today I went to SEWA at about 10am and observed a meeting between Anurag and two engineers. The engineers were showing him their prototype for an energy storage device that would be used in conjunction with the solar panel to charge mobile phones, lights, and cookstoves. The device was composed of a 12-volt battery designed to reduce ghost energy loss. It weighed about 3.5 kilograms and could store and deliver a significant amount of direct current. They also brought a new and improved torch LED flashlight that could deliver up to 4 hours of light. Anurag told them his “regional partial-assembly” idea, and they said they would try to develop a prototype that fit those specifications.
Later in the day, I attended a large meeting of SEWA coordinators. This meeting was in Gujarati, but a young woman translated for me. The primary areas addressed in the meeting were marketing and technical issues. The marketing part of the meeting looked at how coordinators could encourage member involvement in Hariyali. All of the members said that the cost of the cookstoves was prohibitive. They also said that the market for the solar flashlights was much larger than that of the stoves. They provided a variety of explanations for this, but the primary issue was that villagers considered their three stone, or chulla, cookstove to be a free asset and recognized the Hariyali stove as an unnecessary expense. They were encouraged to continue advocating for the stove and to approach it in a different way. They were told to frame the time saved from having to cut less wood and the extra work time at night, due to the solar lights, as extra income. This extra work time would add up to significant extra income and would pay for the stove in a relatively short amount of time. Then the coordinators were to address the health and environmental benefits of the stove.
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