The world is moving on - coconut vendors are now equipped with solar panels!
Until last year the most popular - and affordable - lighting technology available to the vendors was the "petromax" lamp. Messy, polluting and hard to maintain, these kerosene powered lamps also thrived on a blackmarket for fuel siphoned from the public distribution system.
Most of the kerosene lamps have now been replaced by LED panels. A supply chain had evolved around this model in which entrepreneurs had started supplying a complete LED lighting set (light panel + battery + stand), to the street vendors for about ₹20 a night. After 10:00 PM they would go around collecting the lamps, and then getting all the batteries recharged again from an AC outlet.
Now vendors - especially those on the open roads - have progressed to next logical step: charging the batteries using solar panels.
In this case, the vendor, Kasim, set himself a budget of ₹ 3000 and got a 40Wp panel, a refurbished 12V battery of unknown Ah rating and two LED panels. He has also paid extra for a charger-box with a 2-pin plug. He got conned on three counts - the seller sold him mobile charger calling it an "inverter", the LED panel cost him ₹200 (available at ₹80), and the worst of all - nobody told him that he needs a Solar Charge Controller (SCC).
Since the SCC controls the fluctuating voltage coming in from the panels, and optimises the charge that a battery can take, Kasim's entire investment s likely to go kaput in a few weeks.
Kasim's case illustrates the problems most of face while adopting a new technology. He is, of course, an early starter. While most of the other vendors prefer a battery-rental model (₹300/week), he must have worked out that an investment in panels would spare him rental expenses within two months.
I have tried to help out at bit by checking at Lajpat Rai Market (Old Delhi), and telling him that SCC's are available at ₹ 350 (Shop no. 40, 6Amp, DeepSolar brand). Will he get one installed before it is too late? Or will he continue with his "jugaad" setup, get disillutioned with his panel set and return to the regular mode?
And then, even if he does get himself a SCC, it would be yet another component which comes with no quality assurance, standard ratings or guarantees.
We have set ourselves ambitous targets for increase in renewable energy capacity. The focus so far seems to be on big companies and on turning vast areas into solar-energy farms. While this is necessary, it is also important to ensure that entrepreners like Kasim have access, not only to solar equipment of reliable quality, but also to information and guidance that helps avoid unnecessary loss of faith in a good source for off-grid, renewable sources of power.
LINKS & REFERENCES
* Charge Controllers - http://www.freesunpower.com/chargecontrollers.php
* Do I need a Charge Controller? -- http://forum.solar-electric.com/discussion/4518/do-i-need-a-charge-controller
- Battery AH * 2% * Vmp = Panel Wattage
* Do I need a controller? - http://www.mrsolar.com/content/faqs/when-do-I-need-a-charge-controller-and-why.html
* Solar Panel Selection Guide - https://www.bijlibachao.com/solar/india-solar-photovoltaic-pv-panels-selection-guide-understanding-system-quality.html
* MNRE Achievements - http://mnre.gov.in/file-manager/UserFiles/Achievements-of-Power-Coal-and-MNRE-Nov2015-English.pdf