The Million Solar Urja Lamps program is a superb example of public-private partnership for a social cause

The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) successfully concluded the Million Solar Urja Lamp (SoUL) programme, recently. The large-scale solar lamp programme is aimed at addressing the issues of scale, speed and skill. Million SoUL focuses on the ‘localization of solar energy’ in line with the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Make in India’. The program has an objective to provide clean light for study purpose to the children of India in the fastest and most cost-effective manner. For this, IIT-B partnered with NGOs from different parts of the country, involved in grassroots level work. Under the ambit of this project, solar study lamps were assembled, distributed, used and repaired by rural people.
One million solar study lamps were distributed in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha, covering 23 districts, 97 blocks and 10,900+ villages. There were 54 assembly and distribution centres and 350 service repair centres in operation along with 1,409 trained professionals. The prime target of the project was to reach the most marginalized communities with its presence in 77% tribal blocks and 83% educationally backward blocks in the country.
In order to meet the desired scale, the model was designed in such a way that it could be replicated in parallel in multiple blocks, across districts and states. For achieving speed, the assembly and distribution for any block was designed to be completed in 90 days. To target skill development, rural people were trained to assemble, distribute and repair the lamps.
The programme was commenced in 2014-16 with financial support from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Resources (MNRE), Government of India and other philanthropic partners like Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and business entities like Idea Cellular Pvt. Ltd. The programme has integrated IIT Bombay’s technical expertise in solar lamp technology, operations, concurrent evaluation and impact analysis.
According to a study conducted among 14,000 households under the MSP, the SoUL has reduced household kerosene use by about 3.5 liters per year, which is around 9-10% of a household’s annual kerosene entitlement. Due to the use of solar energy, SoUL indirectly reduces the possibility of environmental and health hazards caused by the use of kerosene as fuel. It has created awareness of solar energy in rural intervention blocks, giving people a first-hand experience and has encouraged them to use other solar products. Further, it was found that pass percentage in 10th class has noticeably (up to 10% points) increased from 2013-14 to 2014-15 in the tribal majority blocks, as compared with tribal non-majority blocks.