Jaideep Bansal, Energy Access Leader, Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), speaks about village electrification in the Himalayas in an interview.
Jaideep Bansal, Energy Access Leader, Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), in conversation with R Srinivasan.
Kindly comment on the electrification scenario in the Himalayan region.
In the Himalayan region of India many communities have been living there for centuries. Unfortunately, due to the harsh mountain terrain, traditional grid lines cannot reach these villages. Hence most of the villages are using diesel generators for electricity, which is supplied four hours a day. Some villages have solar power plants that supply electricity. Most villages have been provided with a basic home lighting system that allows villagers to operate two CFL lamps for a couple of hours. GHE’s innovation: Our solar micro-grid technological solution is based on Direct Current (DC) technology. This is an efficient solar system design for decentralised power generation as it involves no DC to AC conversion losses. The capacity of these microgrids ranges from 150W to 250W.
A typical 250W micro-grid solution can support up to 30 LED lights. To support this technology, Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE or the organisation) has designed its own DC LED lights. These are energyefficient LED lights and provide 320 Lumens of light from just 2.5W of power. The organisation has also designed its own low power DC high definition LED TV and DC LED street-lights at 20W to support the low power micro-grid solution. All our micro-grids automatically switch on when sunlight is low and switch off when the sun is shining. Our DC LED TV’s have an in-built timer that allows maximum five hours of operation so that there is no misuse from the community. Using DC micro-grid technology allows us to electrify a village with minimum investment and maximum impact. The reason the organisation chose a DC micro-grid solution is:
1. Remoteness of these villages does not allow conventional power lines to be extended to these villages because of the harsh mountain terrain. 2. Since there are no medical facilities in these villages, the risk of shock from a AC circuit can be a big health hazard so the organisation chose DC technology to eliminate the health hazard from AC.
3. Micro-grids bind the community together connecting 4-5 households together who share electricity from the grid.
How did the Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) begin its mission towards providing clean energy to the remote Himalayan communities? What were the lessons learnt and challenges faced during the process and how were they overcome?
Global Himalayan Expedition was founded by Paras Loomba after he was inspired by an International Antarctic Expedition he participated in during 2012. Having experienced the impact of climate change first hand in Antarctica, Paras decided to start a similar expedition in the Himalayas focusing on implementing solutions based renewable energy technologies for the remote Himalayan communities that have been living in darkness for centuries due to their inaccessible geographical location.
GHE seeks to provide clean energy, education and wireless connectivity access through solar power, to help improve the living standards of the rural population. The initiative focuses on implementing a holistic development model for the rural un-electrified Himalayan communities by providing energy access through solar microgrids for these remote villages located in the higher reaches of the Himalaya. GHE’s objective is to implement the solution in a sustainable, scalable and environmentally beneficial manner, leading to an overall development of the community and empowering the local village population. Energy access intervention has acted as a tool for further development and growth in these remote areas and has led to an increase in income and livelihood creation.
Challenges faced by the team were the harsh terrain and lack of communication facilities in the region, making transportation and logistics a big problem. GHE also faced the lack of skilled manpower in the region for set-up of solar microgrids. They were overcome through engaging the locals in the operations aspect and training local people to become solar engineers. The organisation worked hands on with the locals to streamline and set up logistics in the region which allowed it to run its operations seamlessly in the region.
The organisation follows a six-point approach when providing energy and education access to these remote Himalayan communities.
1. Survey of villages and community mobilisation: It all starts with surveying remote villages that the organisation plans to electrify. Our team undertakes treks to these remote villages to understand the terrain and the total cost required to electrify the village. Having reached the village, the team then mobilises local villagers to understand their current energy needs. Mobilisation also involves formation of a village development committee that will undertake the task of maintaining the grid and help set-up the village joint bank account, where the monthly proceeds for maintenance and upkeep of grids will be deposited by each household. 2. Fund-raising: The next step is to raise funds for electrification of surveyed villages. The organisation connects not only with international development agencies but also multi-national companies that see their CSR mission aligning with the work it is executing in the Himalayas.
3. Design and manufacturing: Once the funding is confirmed, GHE custom designs and manufactures its own DC products: LED lights, LED TV’s and solar charge controllers.
4.Transportation and installation: With the funds in place, materials are manufactured and transported from Delhi to Ladakh in a truck. Once the materials reach Ladakh, GHE undertakes the electrification of villages in two ways: a. Leadership expeditions: GHE invites corporates to sign up for employee leadership expeditions to Ladakh that involves them hands-on in electrification of the village. b. Community installations: In some villages, the organisation engages the local community and trains
them in setting-up micro-grids themselves along with its electricians.
5. Maintenance and repair: For every village that the organisation electrifies, two persons from the village are selected and trained in solar micro-grid maintenance. The villagers pay these villagers from the money collected to cover the cost of any grid maintenance.
6. Income generation - Once electrification of villages is done, the organisation promotes home-stays in these villages which generates revenue for GHE and also brings additional income to the villagers through tourist visits.
Suggest government policies to lend impetus to your initiative.
The government under the leadership of Piyush Goyal is doing amazing work in electrification of rural communities. If the government can work hand-in-hand with organisations such as GHE, rural electrification work can be completed much faster than the expected timelines. The government needs to foster such renewable energy enterprises just as it is doing for web-based start-ups.
How does GHE manage the funding process?
The funding primarily comes from three sources. a. Corporate: Companies that see their CSR mission aligning with work GHE is executing in the Himalayas fund it for electrification of villages. b. Development agencies: Rotary and IEEE that have a mission to improve the lives of communities. c. Crowd funding: GHE gets together volunteers who crowd fund to electrify villages.
Comment on status of the mission - To impact 1 million Himalayan lives and create 1000 entrepreneurs in the next 10 years through creating business models based on clean energy access and formalise energy access partnerships with African, South American and Asian Mountain Partners- this year and going forward.
Starting from 2013, GHE has been able to achieve the following impact:
1. It has to date electrified 25 villages since it began its pilot model of DC-based electrification in 2014.
2. It has installed a total of 120 micro-grids with a total capacity of 21.6 kW. With these micro-grids it has installed a total of 3400 LED bulbs, 60 LED streetlights and 36 LED HD TVs.
3. It has directly impacted 10000 lives through the electrification of 25 Himalayan villages. The estimate is taken using census data of the village from the village head, along with surveys carried out with each household of each electrified village.
4. It has also set up 2 DC-based education centres
promoting experiential education and developing understanding around sustainability themes.
5. The initiative has impacted 1200 students over the course of four years through the set-up of the E-Base. 6. Created 15 home-stays in the villages that have been electrified.
7. The initiative has also impacted 8200 lives indirectly. This has been mainly trekkers who have trekked through these villages over the last 3 years. 8. There has been an increase in income of approximately $24,000 across the 25 villages electrified through engagement in tourism.
9. It has also trained 35 villagers as entry-level solar grid technicians. It has indirectly and directly employed 43 villagers to assist in its expeditions, village surveys and solar grid installations. Of this number, 15 have been women who are leading homestay related activities.
10. It has saved 63 tonnes of kerosene on an annual basis and helped mitigate 157 tonnes of CO2 gases on an annual basis from these villages.
Based on success in the Himalayas, GHE plans to replicate its technological solution and scale its operations in all off-grid mountainous communities of the world facing a similar energy access problem. GHE has partnered with initiatives in Nepal and Peru who would be replicating its DC micro-grid based solutions to provide electricity to un-electrified remote regions of their country. Similar interest has been received from social enterprises in Africa who are keen on adopting the DC solution owing to its higher efficiency and safety. The vision is to promote home-stay based tourism in all these mountainous communities once electrified. GHE has also been invited by the Kazakhstan government to demonstrate its technology at their Future Energy Expo 2017. The organisation recently started setting up innovation centres in Ladakh powered by DC technology. The centres have been set up in rural schools that provide primary and secondary education with the aim of promoting digital literacy among village students. It has introduced Linux/windows OS based low power computers (<12W) with energy efficient LED monitors and satellite connection for internet access.
The Himalayan Innovation Centres comprises on an average six fully fledged systems that require less than 150W of power for 10 hours of operation. This is a perfect demonstration of how a highperformance energy-efficient system can provide digital education for rural schools and it has had a hugely motivating impact on students. It has already received 14 interests from communities in North East India and from communities in South and Central India for reapplication of these innovation centres. It has been promoting its mountain homestays through an online booking portal where one can select a trail and arrange for one’s stay. All the home-stays are managed by women and are in the villages electrified by GHE over the last four years. A UN-led initiative Mountain Partnerships recognises the work our organisation is doing and GHE is partnering with mountain communities to collate all home-stays under a single umbrella of mountain home-stays.