Years ago I worked in Moscow and was amazed at how many “Remont” or repair shops there were and, how many women carried empty shopping bags – just in case. Making do was a way of life in Soviet times but the Remont shops closed as the throw-away society came in. Jugaad, a common-sense approach to making do is the Indian way.

Now for the factories

Jugaad is everywhere. From the way people re-use and re-cycle waste – without any legislative push; to the way people deal with traffic congestion with the spontaneous suspension of rules. Here in Chennai these past few days, with power outages becoming a way of life jugaad is cropping up all over – ways to deal without regular electricity.

With no power to run mixers in the home the forgotten Ammi kal and Aattu kal (grinding stones) are making a comeback. And schools have started to distribute solar lamps for students – to be given back after the exams. This is a big issue because the outages could not have come at a worse time.

Now, people are looking at alternatives. In the short term the market for inverters has exploded. An inverter is a device that provides uninterrupted power supply to household electrical devices and is available in different voltages and load capacities. Not surprisingly, with huge demand, the prices are climbing and dealers are using all the latest technology to push their product with bulk SMSs and Facebook pages out there. Emergency lamp sales have boomed too along with their price. In Tamil Nadu, a cooked breakfast is local custom. Is this the opportunity for breakfast cereals?

In rural areas, the price of inverters is prohibitive so, it is back to traditional methods to prepare the chutney. Out comes the mortar and pestel and, the sale of earthenware pots has shot up as pot cooled water is seen as an alternative to refrigerated water. Many people are sleeping outside in the cooler air – which increases sales of nets. There is not much choice – power cuts can last up to eight hours.

So much for jugaad, there are signs that people are starting to consider power shortages as a thing for the future and so, people constructing new houses are integrating solar energy features to power heaters and inverters with extra plumbing for solar water heaters. It is time to see this as part of a wider sustainability agenda for business. This means looking at supply chains and exploring fresh thinking on buildings; fleets and behaviours. It means looking at resources used in making the product and the process itself. Is my warehouse in the right place for the client base and, truck fleet optimisation? Are the trucks up to the job and, are drivers using fuel and tyres the right way? Are the pallets and the packaging right? This is not just about carbon footprint it is about choices on the way we move things around!

The outages are a wake-up call. Whilst it is a poor reflection on the powers of municipal planning and inertia at the political level it is a wake-up call to explore and move to alternative sources of energy. A pestel and mortar may be fine for the home but, Tamil Nadu can’t afford to go back to tradition to power the State into a world class position in terms of manufacturing and business in general. I spoke with one manufacturing business who explained: “We pay 5.5 Rs per KWH from the Government grid and, 12.5 Rs per KWH using our back-up generators. We are using this back up around 4 hours a day; 24 hours a week! This is a major problem.”

Huge investments are needed not just to deal with the issue now but to anticipate future requirements. It is estimated that some 3,000 MW is needed to plug the gap. Drax Power Station in the North of England – which serves over 25% of the UK’s needs – generates 4,000 MW. This is the scale of the problem. More will have to be done on the energy mix and how best to harness clean energy. This means more solar installations and, the use of wind turbines. More than anything, it should mean a focus on R&D to bring down the price to point the market can bear. This is not jugaad, this is true innovation – building something that is not yet there.