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In Bihar, women entrepreneurs are bringing solar energy to villages

Women entrepreneurs from villages across Bihar are not only investing in solar energy but are also becoming advocates of clean energy solutions

Women at one of the solar sabhas held by Bolega Bihar. (Bolega Bihar)

By Aisiri Amin

LAST PUBLISHED 14.11.2023  |  11:48 AM IST

Until four months ago, 34-year-old Renu Kumari, whose primary income comes from running an eatery business, was spending close to 1,700 a month on electricity—a large portion of her monthly income of 20,000. Now, thanks to solar energy, her electricity bills are zero, making it possible to save money for her children’s hostel fees. Kumari, who lives in Bihar’s Seema village, is one of several women entrepreneurs in the state who are investing in solar energy to run their businesses and increase savings.

With almost daily warnings about the worrying consequences of the climate crisis, solar energy has been projected as a game-changer to reduce dependence on the burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation. However, a barrier to adoption is the lack of awareness. It’s this gap that the Bolega Bihar campaign has been addressing since 2020 by making a push for household-level adoption of decentralized renewable energy solutions in Bihar’s Gaya and Nalanda.

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The campaign is supported by World Resources Institute (WRI), Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), Eco Warriors and a non-governmental organisation in North Bihar, SAKHI. 

“This year we focused on bringing solar and decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions to women entrepreneurs. While it’s a way of switching to more sustainable practices, it also elevates their livelihoods and entrepreneurial aspects," says Samya Ghosh, spokesperson of Bolega Bihar.

Two factors drive the focus on women entrepreneurs. One, they play a huge role in households, including financial planning, and two, women in self-help groups in rural regions invest in entrepreneurial initiatives. 

While the environmental benefit of solar solutions is an important aspect, Bolega Bihar has mainly highlighted the economic benefits and supported women entrepreneurs to become spokespersons for solar energy solutions. 

Early this year, Bolega Bihar started the awareness program by identifying 100 women entrepreneurs in and around Gaya and Rajgir. The program focused on understanding their electricity needs and explaining to them what solar energy is and how it can be used to meet their needs. “We held demos to show what the products look like and how they can benefit them. We wanted them to become a spokesperson for their adoption in their respective villages," Ghosh explains. The aim was to provide the women entrepreneurs with a holistic view of what solar energy solutions can look like – something they didn’t have access to before. 

“Access to renewable energy (RE) and DRE solutions has been an issue. In many of the villages that we visited in the state, people didn’t know about alternatives to traditional electricity. Once we showed how solar panels can be used to power household appliances and demos of solar appliances such as bulbs and fans and even to open businesses using solar-powered fodder machines, they showed more intent towards investing in these," says Ghosh. It’s through awareness people can make informed decisions so having access to it can make all the difference, he adds. 

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After the awareness program, Bolega Bihar held ‘solar sabhas’ in Nalanda and Gaya in July, which were attended by government officials, policymakers, and organisations in the solar and renewable energy sector. About 700 women leaders across Bihar participated in the sabhas, engaged in discussions about the adoption of solar energy and shared their experiences as well as their ideas with civic administrators and market suppliers. 

Many of the women entrepreneurs who attended the awareness program also bought solar products at subsidized prices through stalls arranged by Bolega Bihar. “We had no idea about anything related to solar energy before this. Electricity bills have always been a burden, especially if you are running a business. Now, with zero bills, I can save money and invest more in my family’s future," says Kumari. 

To understand the impact of their awareness program Bolega Bihar conducted a survey comprising 700 women from Nalanda and Gaya. The survey compared responses of the same participants before and after attending the program. The findings showed that awareness levels about renewable energy amongst targeted women entrepreneurs increased from 25% at the beginning to 76% at the end of the study. 

Moreover, the data showed that more than 60% of the respondents from both geographical areas gained confidence in discussing RE/DRE products after attending Bolega Bihar’s leadership training. Now, the women spread awareness about RE/DRE to various community members, including ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, and ward members. Many women from self-help groups in Kariyana, Rajgir were also inspired to invest in solar dryers for drying moringa leaves and other products, seeing a business opportunity. 

After participation in events related to awareness about solar solutions, 97% of the study respondents reported having improved awareness of solar products. The findings revealed that LED lights were the most recognized (71%), followed by solar lamps/bulbs (61%). 

“Now, the women entrepreneurs in several villages of the state understand the economic as well as the environmental benefits of switching to solar energy. They come to us and ask how to buy the products and access subsidies. They are talking to solar product providers that they have come across through our campaign and some have even purchased products," says Ghosh. However, more subsidies, especially from the government, are needed to increase adoption. 

Today, Kumari has become an advocate of solar energy in her village, showing others how it works, what it can be used for and the benefits of the switch. 

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