Energy Conservators Light Up Lives

Date: Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ahmedabad (Gujarat) - It’s not often that you see a woman in a Burkha on the move in Ahemdabad, going door-to-door in slums to teach families about energy conservation, and sell energy efficient products. Yet Sabinaben Sabirhai Mansuri, a 42-year-old widow and mother of three, braved the odds and did exactly this when she signed up for the Urja Bacchat Sathi Training Programme at the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA).

Lights up lives
Sabinaben Sabirbhai, an Energy Conservator, on a visit to a house in the slums to train women about various energy conservation methods. Here she explains how using a CFL brings down electricity bills. Photo credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

As part of a UN Women programme, Sabinaben was one of the 20 women energy conservators trained by SEWA about energy conservation. They visited over 1800 households in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar and convinced 240 households for full adoption of energy efficient measures and 162 for partial adoption. Besides saving energy through altered lighting, ventilation and cooking options, this also helped poor families save Rs. 75 per month.

“It’s a 21.16 per cent impact, which is very encouraging”, explains Pinalben Shah, Project Coordinator from SEWA. “People are now aware of the benefits of energy saving appliances. Spreading the message itself is an achievement”, says Shah.

A training with a difference

It all started with a month-long training programme developed by SEWA to help the conservators improve their communication skills and learn basic calculations. Building this knowledge base was key—it helped them convince low-income householders about the monetary benefits of energy conservation.

By conducting energy audits and filling out pre-assessment forms, the Energy Conservators advised households on how to reduce spending on energy. They offered a range of cost-efficient products such as Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL), ventilations shafts or smokeless wood cooking stoves.

“A CFL is a little more expensive than a regular light, but after a few months, a household ends up saving money on electricity bills”, explains Sabinaben. She uses CFLs and energy-efficient electrical appliances in her own home as well. “This allows me to save INR 300 every month”, she adds.

In the remote village of Magodi in Gandhinagar district, energy conservators trained villagers on how to use the Prakati stove – a two-sided smokeless wood stove. “By using this stove, almost 30 per cent of wood can be saved,” explained energy conservator Lakshmiben Dusurathbhai Thakar.

Using a watt meter, she also eloquently explained the benefits of using CFL lamps by using a Wattmeter-machine. “Instead of using a 15Watt light bulb, we can use a CFL light bulb of 5Watt, which saves 10W. Instead of a 40W bulb, we can use 15W CFL bulb, which saves 25W,” Thakar explained to the gathered women.

Savings for poor families

Santosh Kishan Bhai, who lives in the Ahmedabad slums, is one of the 402 families that have benefitted from the programme. A ventilation roof installed in his two-room dwelling that is home to 6 family members has made a remarkable difference.

Santosh Kishan Bhai shows how using a ventilation roof has made a difference to his family’s life. It reduces the electricity bills and thanks to the ventilation system, his family is able to save up to Rs 100 every month. Photo credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

His family is now able to save up to INR 100 every month on electricity bills. “The improved ventilation has also made the room much cooler and the air better to breathe,” says Mr Bhai. Overall, project beneficiaries within the 220 households had a range of savings; some had no savings due to higher electricity consumption to some saving Rs. 882 / per month due to these energy efficient methods.

Sardaben Kaluji Thakar, from Rupal village in Gandhinagar, and her husband are happy about their decision to shift to CFLs, on suggestion from a SEWA energy conservator. Apart from saving money, the CFLs do not heat up their house like the traditional bulbs. Photo credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

Raiben Kalaji Thakar and her husband Kalaji Maganji Thakar are glad they shifted to CFL on learning about it from the SEWA saathi. It has brought about change in the quality of their lives with the extra money they save.

As a result of the energy savings, the average monthly energy bill of 220 household has reduced from Rs. 241/- to Rs 190/- (21.16% reduction).

Greater confidence for women conservators

The conservators now also have the technical skills to use wattmeters, calculators and mobile phones. This, and greater mobility, has enhanced their confidence levels.

Earlier, Sabinaben hardly ventured out of the house. She knew little about savings too. But now that has changed. “I am now more confident and can manage my earnings and save money. I am now able to pay for my eldest boy’s school fees,” she says.

The benefits of the training received by Energy Conservators are being felt across the community and generations. “I am proud to be an Energy Conservator and so are my children. When I come home in the evening, they always ask me how many light bulbs I sold today,” says Sabinaben. With her savings, she also opened a bank account with SEWA and invested it in a pension programme.

About twenty women participated in the one-month training by SEWA Energy. They were taught about electricity consumption patterns, how to perform basic calculations, and improve their communications skills. Photo credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

The Urja Bacchat Sathi Programme provided women with skills, a means of livelihood and new roles in the community. “I was able to tutor my daughter in math and help her pass the second standard. I can now do what I want with my life and find a good job for myself,” says Laxmiben Dashratbhai Thakore from Magodi Village.

Women energy conservators at SEWA, Ahmedabad, Gujarat Photo credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

“I feel brave as it’s not always easy to speak with unwelcoming families,” adds another change maker Darshnaben Sanijaybhai Salaki.

“It’s important to empower these women as they are the leaders of their households. They are the ones that should have the decision-making power which is unfortunately not always the case”, says Pinalben Shah.

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