Location: Uttar Pradesh, India
One of Al Gore’s favorite proverbs stresses the place of community in environmentalism: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” When talking about environmental business especially, this is all too true. Working with an entire community to solve a problem lets solutions reach more individuals while reducing per-capita ecological impact. Just as importantly, the act of implementing an environmental solution can unite a community, a valid goal in and of itself.
Mera Gao Power, founded in 2011 by Americans Nikhil Jaisinghani and Brian Shaad, incorporates this communitarian ideology into the business of spreading solar power in India. Uttar Pradesh, the state where Mera Gao focuses, has 125 million residents who lack electricity, or 63% of the region’s population. Many of those lacking electricity live in rural communities of around fifty households, a situation perfectly suited for Mera Gao’s alternative power solution, the solar micro-grid. Villages that solicit Mera Gao’s services are carefully surveyed by employees who determine the best place to put solar panels and batteries. Then, with the help of community members, Mera Gao sets up two solar panels, batteries, and power lines, all within one day. Electricity is wired to any household that pays the subscription fee of 25 rupees, a cost that is half that otherwise paid for kerosene and phone charging. The subscription also includes two LED lights and a phone charger, eliminating the need to travel to charge phones. Mera Gao takes responsibility for all maintenance within the price of the subscription as well, meaning villages are free from worry about the future costs of their new grid.
With lights coming on after dark, the nighttime life of the community completely changes. Additional light lets existing businesses extend their hours and encourages the creation of new businesses, like the eyeglass crafter and the sari seamstress that popped up in two villages with Mera Gao micro-grids. Children can study in their homes at night, and lit homes become resources even for those whose homes remain unlit. Community members feel safer walking around and in their homes. It’s no wonder that, in some newly lit areas, cheers accompany the flicking on of Mera Gao’s lights every night. The lights transform the very nature of community life.
As of September 2013, Mera Gao has reached five hundred towns and lit 13,000 households which house 65,000 individuals. They show no sign of slowing down: new villages receive micro-grids nearly every day as Mera Gao sweeps across rural Uttar Pradesh. Their grids have been recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of the 10 Most Important Technology Milestones of 2012, honored alongside technology created by Facebook and Kickstarter. The business has also been shortlisted by the 2014 International Ashden Awards and in 2011 was identified as a Green Game Changer by the World Wildlife Fund. Mera Gao’s success comes from not just improving the environment or improving individual lives, but from improving entire communities within the space of a day. They sell more than electricity, they sell new lifestyles.
Environmental Impact: Avoided use of fossil fuels, including avoided emission of GHGs and harmful substances
Measurement: Mera Gao Power
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