Research is an essential part of how we understand our customer behaviour and the markets we operate in. This post from Chris Marples, our Product & Service Lead, shows some of the insights gathered from a research exercise performed in rural-Karnataka in October 2015.

A recent Indian government report [PDF] states that 97% of villages in India are electrified. However the definition of an electrified village is not quite what you might expect.

The Indian Ministry of Power’s definition [PDF] of an electrified village says that a village must have:

  • basic infrastructure such as a distribution transformer and power lines
  • electricity provided to public places - schools, local council, health centre
  • electricity being provided to at least 10% of the total houses in the village

Nowhere is this misunderstanding of electrification more evident than in villages like Hirenellur, a rural village in the Shimoga district of Karnataka, Southern India and one BuffaloGrid’s first trial locations in Karnataka. I visited Hirenellur in October 2015 to measure the impact that our service is having on people’s lives.  Along with Daniel Fogg, our COO, and with the help of Jagan SH, our India Operations Manager, we conducted a qualitative survey to understand customer behaviour and village context around power, mobile phone use and home lighting. The results of this survey can be seen at the bottom of the page.

We found that although power infrastructure (pylons and substations) is installed and power lines connect most homes to the grid, the electricity flowing through the grid is not sufficient to supply people with power when they need it. This demand peaks during evenings, when villagers are cooking meals, studying or want to communicate with their friends. This was confirmed in our survey, showing that 60% of our village sample had less than 4 hours of grid power each day.

Since deploying a BuffaloGrid Hub through our agent in Hirenellur, villagers now have a reliable source of electricity to charge their mobile phones whenever they need to.

Our service has been particularly popular with the young people of Hirenellur.  Around 60% of our customers included in the survey were under the age of 30.  Many of this group also explained that their phone usage was heavy and frequent and expressed how useful the service was when needing to charge their phones multiple times in one day. So it seems the youth of rural India are as inseparable from their mobiles as the rest of the developed world.

When surveying villagers occupations, 34% - the largest group - were farm workers and 23% - the second largest group - were labourers.  This is certainly indicative of the area, however the survey also revealed the importance of mobile phones for these workers to find work in nearby towns and villages.  Many also live out of town and use BuffaloGrid to charge phones when coming to work in the village centre.

It is apparent that the mobile phone is becoming much more than just a lifeline to these rural people.  Our survey revealed that 38% of our sample own smartphones, using them to stay in contact with their friends through WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, to read news articles and to download videos.  One young villager showed me his favourite YouTube clips - a selection of Bollywood hits, motor racing, accidents and stunts.

Whether it is for work or social use, it is clear that the villagers of Hirenellur enjoy the benefits of their mobile phones and spend a significant proportion of their weekly wages on keeping them running. 58% of our sample spend at least 100 INR on average each week on phone credit, with one villager spending in excess of 500 INR every week.

We have found that our service is having a large and positive impact on the lives of the people of Hirenellur - providing them with a reliable source of power to continue their daily routines and stay connected with friends and family.  Below is a testimonial from Devappa, one of BuffaloGrid’s first agents.

How has BuffaloGrid improved your business?
“I'm very happy to be providing the BuffaloGrid service to my customers and they are very satisfied. The introduction of the service in this area is a good thing for our village. With time I think this service can really help us.”

How has BuffaloGrid changed village life?
“Our village has frequent power outages and before BuffaloGrid arrived people could not charge their phones at these times. Villagers now come and charge with BuffaloGrid. They can call anyone anytime they like now!”

Customer DemographicsInfographic