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India: New national Helpline for Solar Water Heaters
As part of the initiatives of the UNDP/GEF Global Solar Water Heating Project (GSWHP), the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has started a voice-activated National Helpline on Solar Water Heaters to raise awareness of the technology and answer the questions of consumers. The service, which has been operating since 15 September 2011, is managed by the Solar Thermal Federation of India (STFI). It has a toll-free number (1800 2 33 44 77), with service hours from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM between Monday and Friday, and 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM on Saturdays. The two employed call centre agents offer help in both Hindi and English.
It is probably the world’s first national helpline answering question about the solar thermal sector and running over a longer period. Whereas in Europe, the helplines established for marketing campaigns have always lasted only for a short time, the Indian version has been implemented as a permanent service to the sector. Its establishment is accompanied by a number of other marketing measures: ads in newspapers and on the radio, as well as banners on the web pages of state agencies.
India’s fast-growing solar water heating market ranks among the top 10 in the world. According to the Indian government, the solar water heater potential is estimated to be 140 million m2. Of the 20 million m2 stated as a target in the national Solar Mission Plan, 9 million m2 were already set up until June 2011. Considering the huge potential and the speed with which it is explored, the helpline is expected to raise enough awareness and reach a larger share of the public.
The main concept behind the helpline is to direct clients to the nearest trader or supplier of solar water heaters in their region. Manufacturers can pay a small fee to be registered with the call centre and attract clients to their network of dealers and installers. The MNRE allows only manufacturers which have been approved as channel partners (see http://www.solarthermalworld.org/node/2896) to take part in the national incentive programme. Another reason for establishing the helpline was to be able to better disseminate information about the benefits of solar water heaters, as well as information about incentives and financing related to solar thermal technology use.
The type of calls received every quarter will be logged in a database and shared with MNRE. In addition, the call centre gathers the complaints of people who are already customers of a certain company and shares this information with the respective business to improve quality. The government hopes the helpline will help to better understand the people behind grant applications, in order to decide on future policy.
This text was written by Jaideep Malaviya, an expert in Solar Thermal based in India (firstname.lastname@example.org)