How efficiency, clean energy and appropriate financing lead to better livelihoods: Case study sewing machines

The need/problem: Sewing machines are fitted with motors to improve productivity. But productive hours are lost to power cuts. Solar powered sewing machines are an answer to this but inefficient motors escalate the cost of the solar panels leading to the myth that solar power is expensive.

Identifying existing technology: Small (less than half HP) energy efficient motors usually used in unorganised sector livelihood applications are hard to find. Energy efficiency of a motor or a pump not only depends not only on it’s quality but also it’s sizing for specific applications.

The solution: For areas where power cuts are not an issue, sewing machines can be retrofitted with appropriately sized motors to enhance efficiency and productivity. At the same time reducing electricity consumption and keeping electrical bills in check. In off-grid areas or those with frequent power-cuts, these sewing machines with efficient motors can be solar powered to make the tailor’s profession grid-independent. But technology is just one factor in the triad, the other two being financial and social components. This was found to be true in case of an entrepreneur from Kolar region of Karnataka with respect to financing.

The local banks were weary about giving solar loans citing reasons of poor service and maintenance by companies/service providers leading to device breakdown and non-repayment of loans. In order to build bankers’ confidence in renewables and service providers in that space two things were undertaken: First, sending out technicians to service other companies’ products and assuring people that they would re-visit the system once every six months. Second, meeting the regional manager/ relevant officials of the bank to impress upon them the relevance of the product and the need for financing for entrepreneurs.The effect of this in the Kolar case was that the Regional Manager directed the branch manager to disburse the loan at the earliest.

System Design:
In the Kolar entrepreneur’s case an inefficient universal motor was replaced with a more an efficient DC motor (60 W) before solar powering the system. Solar panels of 60 Wp with 30 Ah battery were used to provide 8 hours of backup/day. The system was designed to run for 8 hours a day. Had the universal motor not been replaced with a DC one, solar panels of 100Wp would have to be used and the system would have doubled. Hence it was an important step to scout and implement a more efficient motor.

<b>Replicating the process/model:</b> The process of replacing an inefficient motor with an efficient one has applications in power looms, silk reeling, <em>Roti</em> making machines, sugar cane crushers, lathe machines and other livelihood activities. The concept of energy efficiency can be applied to many contexts such as lighting (replacing incandescent bulbs with energy efficient LED ones), solar refrigeration (replacing front opening fridges with top opening ones), water pumping (choosing appropriate pump in context of size and application).

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