Manipur youth lights up remote villages, hospitals with solar power; clocks Rs 1.6 crore in revenues

Seth Moirangtham set up SNL Energy Solutions in 2019 to provide affordable solar energy to rural areas in power-deficient Manipur. The startup has lit up many remote villages and institutions besides offering solar-powered livelihood applications

Rashmi Pratap
New Update
seth with team

SNL Energy founder Seth Moirangtham (second from left) after solar instalation at a home in Manipur

When Seth Moirangtham was working with an NGO in Manipur, he would travel to some of the remotest villages of the state to sell books. Having graduated from Manipur University in 2015, the young man realised the stark contrast between urban and remote areas in terms of basic infrastructure, especially the availability of electricity.

“After working for two years, I fully understood that I could make a difference by taking power to remote villages where children could not study after sunset and women had no time to work on their handloom (found in every household) after coming back from farms,” says Seth, now 30.

Training for entrepreneurship

In 2018, he saw a newspaper ad about a training programme for those aspiring to be a solar energy entrepreneur. The programme was being offered by Selco Foundation, a non-profit, taking sustainable energy solutions to rural and urban communities. “They were doing exactly what I was looking for. I applied for it and learned about providing last-mile solar energy connectivity, home lighting and solar-powered livelihood applications,” he says.

A technician instaling a solar panel
A technician instaling solar panels. Pic: SNL Energy Solutions

The training prepped him for his entrepreneurial journey. He set up SRL Energy Solutions in 2019 and began work by providing solar energy to the ancient Manipur village Andro, which is gaining popularity as a tourist destination.

“Andro village did not have an electricity supply till then. We tied up with a local NGO, SEVA-Manipur, which provided the end users with financial support (microfinance) to opt for solar power installations,” Seth says.

Solar home systems are cost-effective for rural communities. They pay monthly EMIs between Rs600 and Rs1000 to SEVA-Manipur for three years. SNL also offers free after-sales service for three years. 

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In Andro village, SRL Energy installed solar lighting in 20 households. “People would pay to the microfinance NGO in instalments and we would receive the money from SEVA-Manipur. I would use the money to buy more panels and batteries for installations,” he says.

“I initially invested Rs1 lakh to buy the solar panels, batteries, and other consumables from the local market as outside vendors would not work with us due to small scale.”

The tie-up with SEVA-Manipur helped SNL build a strong team. Pic: SNL Energy Solutions

With SEVA-Manipur, SRL went to remote places and started implementing home lighting projects. Solar power is a sustainable, clean and renewable source of energy. It reduces the burden on grid power and cuts down carbon emissions, besides creating employment opportunities.  

Also Read: Andro: Manipur’s ancient village where only married women make pottery

Lighting up underserved communities

After Andro village, SNL went to Moirang and provided lighting to underserved communities. One of the important aspects was lighting up the huts that float on Loktak Lake. Phumdis are unique islands that float in the Loktak Lake.

Locals build bamboo huts (phumsang) on these islands and earn livelihoods through fishing and vegetable cultivation. The lake is an important tourist area but due to inadequate electricity, tourism and livelihoods were adversely affected. 

“The use of diesel is prohibited in Loktak Lake as it is under the Keibul Lamjao National Park. We began with installation in one of the huts and then others also signed up for solar power,” he says.

SNL then moved on to the Tengnoupal district near the India-Myanmar border. “By then, we found many vendors of solar panels and batteries outside Manipur. We started buying from Guwahati, which cut costs for us by about 40 percent,” Seth adds.

Solar lighting at huts in the floating islands of Loktak Lake. Pic: SNL Energy Solutions

With the help of the NGO partnership, SNL Energy could build a strong team. SEVA-Manipur would fund the users who could repay the amount in instalments over three years.

Diversification after COVID

However, after COVID-19 hit in 2020, SNL had to diversify its model. “After COVID, everything stopped and we had to change our strategy. Microfinance could not provide money to end users as the users were unable to pay and didn’t want to take risks. From there, we started working with the SELCO Foundation as well,” he says.

“Post-COVID, we started getting bigger projects in the livelihood space like solar-powered pottery wheels, solar-powered sewing machines and handlooms with a motor (which cost Rs2 lakh per loom),” he says.  

SNL Energy had revenues of Rs1.6 crore in FY24 with profit being around 25 percent. 

“The revenue is a side-effect. My main objective was to take electricity to underserved communities of Manipur and I am glad I have been able to do that through SNL,” says Seth, adding that providing solar power to the 30 quarantine centres in Manipur during the COVID lockdown was a personally fulfilling moment for him.


Cost-benefit analysis of solar energy installation

Manipur has a cloudy winter and little sunshine during rainy seasons. “Our solar systems are designed to work with even four hours of sunlight a day. So most of the systems are sufficient enough to manage in rainy seasons as well,” he points out.

Seth explains that for a household of four people, SNL has a customized system. “We design it with an option of a minimum of two lights and a maximum of five lights. The solar panels, consumables, light bulbs, and installation cost Rs 21000. The solar panels have a life of 25 years while battery works for five years with a replacement cost of Rs5,000,” he says.

Manipur introduced the pre-paid electricity system in 2014 (in Imphal) and later expanded to other areas. 

For a family of four, a pre-paid connection of Rs1000 can last for a maximum of two months with basic lighting usage. “With SNL solar system, it can be extended to four months where grid power is used only for water pump or other necessary devices,” says Seth.

So the biggest advantage is that users can save on the more expensive grid power by using solar energy.

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“Before Covid, we were going door to door in mostly remote parts of Manipur. That helped children and women the most. Children would study while their mothers worked at night on looms before sleeping,” he says.

A potter with a solar-powered pottery wheel
A potter with a solar-powered pottery wheel. Pic: SNL Energy Solutions

“After COVID, when we started working closely with the SELCO Foundation, we got a chance to provide solar energy to health facilities in rural areas, most of which were defunct due to power shortage despite the presence of staff. We have put up 24X7 power backup systems for health centres,” Seth says.

“I enjoy doing this. Now SNL also procures materials directly from manufacturers in Delhi and Kolkata. More and more people are coming forward to use this clean and renewable energy source. I am glad I can contribute to the environment's betterment and light up the dark areas,” he adds.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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