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solar-powered sewing machinesIn rural India, where many people lack sustainable energy sources, there has been a recent emphasis on clean energy. This means focusing on decentralized, renewable energy (DRE) over “brown” energy, provided through sources such as coal. Clean energy is especially important in India because it may not only produce more sustainable energy systems but also create more jobs and higher incomes. Solar-powered sewing machines are just one example of how sustainable energy can help lift people out of poverty.

Energy in India

India is the second-highest coal consumer in the world, consuming around 966,288,693 tons per year since 2016. This amount has decreased, however, due to COVID-19. In April 2020, Coal India Ltd.’s shipments decreased by 25.5% to 39.1 million tons. This drop in coal use greatly impacts rural areas, which lack reliable electricity.

More than four million rural micro-businesses struggle with this lack of sustainable energy sources. In rural areas, where 29% of people are below the poverty line, micro-enterprises make up a large portion of people’s incomes. These enterprises provide a service costing less than 10 lakh rupees. To combat their challenges with electricity, these businesses have begun to harness solar power on a smaller scale through sewing machines, printing machines and lighting. Many NGOs have also begun to help these businesses set up major infrastructure to do so.

A Solution in Solar-Powered Sewing Machines

Clean energy could not only produce sustainable energy, but it also has a higher potential for efficient outcomes, increasing average income and creating more jobs. The workforce could increase to at least 330,000 people using green energy, compared to the 300,000 employed with coal in India.

A concrete example of this phenomenon is solar-powered sewing machines. These machines, developed by Resham Sutra, use 90% less power than standard machines. In addition to creating more jobs, these sewing machines’ increased efficiency could also benefit rural areas by reducing the effects of pollution from coal. Rural women will especially benefit from solar-powered sewing machines. In the state of Maharashtra, around 21% of women with micro-enterprises are tailors.

Additionally, the Selco Foundation has looked to make small but sustainable improvements to pre-existing machines. By attaching a permanent magnet DC motor, the organization allows solar energy to power sewing machines. This mechanism increased efficiency by 25%. A study conducted by The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) on the impacts of the Selco Foundation found that the annual income of tailors increased by 39% on average after adding solar power to sewing machines. Tailors’ income rose from a median value of INR 65,000 to INR 90,000.

Using Solar-Powered Sewing Machines to Combat COVID-19

As COVID-19 supplies have been scarce in many parts of India, some female tailors have stitched masks to disperse, supporting their businesses while fighting COVID-19. Smart Power India, powered by the Rockefeller Foundation, has shifted its mission to address COVID-19 in India. The NGO has placed 250 mini-grids across India to provide electricity to over 230,000 people. The foundation now supplies money to seamstresses to stitch face masks to various districts for protection from COVID-19. Each tailor uses solar-powered sewing machines powered by the mini-grids placed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Over a two-month period, the 25 women funded by Smart Power India have sewed over 125,000 masks, receiving $400 to $500 for their work.

For those in poverty, sustainable energy continues to be an obstacle to increasing wealth. Clean energy can both reduce efficiency and pollution as well as help people find a consistent source of income. Rural tailors in India, encouraged by solar-powered sewing machines, can thus climb out of poverty while helping their communities.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Flickr

Solving Energy Poverty
Access to electricity and other forms of energy is so ubiquitous in the United States and other developed economies, that it is easy to forget that energy poverty persists in the developing world. Yet, energy poverty (the lack of access to modern energy services including electricity and clean cooking facilities) remains a barrier to global prosperity and individual well-being. At the current rate of progress toward the United Nations’ goal of universal energy access, 650 million people will still be in the dark in 2030. However, people can solve the problem of energy poverty in developing nations. Moreover, they can tackle energy poverty without a significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. Here are three sustainable technologies solving energy poverty.

3 Sustainable Technologies Solving Energy Poverty

  1. Microgrids: Microgrids are small, localized power grids that operate on renewable energy, diesel back-up and batteries. With low costs and high yields, microgrids are an affordable and sustainable solution to energy poverty. The price of batteries, solar and other energy technologies has been decreasing since 2010, reducing the cost of operation. According to the International Energy Agency, microgrids are the most cost-effective option to deliver electricity to more than 70 percent of the unconnected. By powering fridges, fans, irrigation pumps and other machinery, microgrids have saved time for families on household chores, helped farmers increase crop yield and light classrooms. In India, a project that Smart Power India and the Rockefeller Foundation launched is using microgrids to power more than 100 villages serving 40,000 people. More than 140 microgrids that this initiative has built have helped to alleviate energy poverty in the region.
  2. Biogas Digesters: Biogas digesters burn organic waste to generate odorless, clean-burning methane. Some experts consider them carbon-neutral because they offset more emissions than they create. The average home biogas system can reduce firewood use by up to 4.5 tons each year, which translates into four tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Biogas digesters are a sustainable, reliable technology for powering gas stoves and lights, requiring little maintenance and is safer than combustible tanks of liquid petroleum gas. Because of their potential to alleviate energy poverty, the government of Nepal, through its Alternative Energy Promotion Center, has helped build more than 200,000 biogas systems across the country and aims to increase that number to two million.
  3. LED Lighting: Solar-powered LED lights are delivering electricity to those unable to plug into power grids. Thanks to extensive innovation in the field, people can now also use many LED lights to power phone charging and small fans. LED has a long service life, between 10 and 20 years, which makes it a reliable form of sustainable lighting. They are also portable, easy to install and safer than fuel-based lighting. People unable to connect to an electric grid have bought more than 2.1 million LED-solar products globally. According to the IFC-World Bank Lighting Africa program, nearly 5 percent of Africans without access to electricity, around 28.5 million people, currently use LED lighting. Nonprofit organizations, such as Solar Aid, are increasing that number as well by introducing solar LED lights to other economically poor areas to sustainably combat energy poverty.

Limited access to reliable, modern and affordable energy services hinders communities and cripples economies. That is why achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of universal energy access by 2030 is so critical. These three sustainable technologies solving energy poverty are leading the way.

Kayleigh Rubin
Photo: Flickr