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Symposium 2009

Proposal - The Barefoot College

The Challenge

The future global economy is likely to consume ever more energy, especially with the rising energy demand of developing countries such as China and India. At the same time, the tremendous risk of cl ...

The future global economy is likely to consume ever more energy, especially with the rising energy demand of developing countries such as China and India. At the same time, the tremendous risk of climate change associated with the use of fossil fuels makes supplying this energy increasingly difficult.

(Complete Version including figures can be found in the Virtual Library.)

The Barefoot College is the ONLY fully Solar Electrified College based in a village in India. 45 Kws of solar panels and 5 Battery banks of 136 deep cycle batteries have been installed by semi-literate barefoot solar engineers. The solar components (invertors, charge controllers, battery boxes, stands) are all fabricated in the College itself. Provides power to run 30 computers, E-mail, 500 tube lights, 70 fans, photocopying machine, VCRs, camcorders, pathology Lab, dining hall, a 40,000 book Library, dentist chair, film editing machine, slide projectors, and battery chargers.

As of December 2008 in India 289 illiterate ( 213 men and 76 women) barefoot solar engineers have solar electrified 599 villages generating a total of 550 Kwp electricity per day reaching 11,900 families in 14 States of India: installed 8,700 solar units in individual houses fabricated 4,100 solar lanterns for 549 night schools benefiting 10,700 families with a population of nearly 100,000 people. The barefoot solar engineers have installed 16 solar power plants of 2.5 Kws each: women have fabricated 40 parabolic solar cookers: 71 solar water heaters have been fabricated and installed in the Himalayas: trained rural communities to establish 23 Rural Electronic Workshops.

As a result the College has prevented 1.86 million tons of carbon emissions from polluting the atmosphere. Illiterate women are fabricating parabolic solar cookers water heaters.

500 kws is being generated in one day from all the solar installations all over India.

What is the barefoot approach?

A technology just dumped on rural villages from the urban areas by solar engineers has no chance of being successful. The village community has to be sensitised to manage, control and finally own the technology. Poor village communities can run solar units on their own if they are trained to fabricate the solar equipment at the village level as well as repair and maintain it. Illiterate rural women have demonstrated this is possible.

Before any non-electrified village is solar electrified anywhere in the world a Village Energy and Environment Committee(VEEC) has to be formed and the VEEC has to take two major decisions.

  1. How much each family is prepared to pay for the Fixed Solar Unit or Solar Lantern per month.
  2. Who the VEEC will select from among the poorest of the poor family in the village to be trained as a Barefoot Solar Engineer.

This approach was first tried, tested and widely applied in India in the 1990s.

Once the barefoot approach had produced a significant impact in India in the remotest villages all along the Himalayas it was decided to go global and see if it could be replicated all over the world.

GLOBAL

For the first time in the history of the Least Developed Countries(LDCs)in the UNDP Human Development Report it was decided to identify ONLY illiterate and semi-literate middle aged village women who had never left their villages in their lives to be trained as barefoot solar engineers. This has proved to be remarkably successful.

Afghanistan

In 2005 a total of 150 individual houses were solar electrified by 10 semi-literate men and women who had never left their village.In the history of Afghanistan this is the first time 3 semi-literate women had solar electrified their own villages.

The 5 villages were electrified in the most backward regions of the country.

Today in 2008 with Norwegian funding the barefoot approach has been replicated in 100 villages saving over 500,000 litres of kerosene. 21 more women have been trained.

Mali
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHhpyS5U1KY

The Gambia
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWvwtCPnNK8

Bhutan
Never had any politician or engineer or bureaucrat believed it could have been possible but in June 2008 35 very poor semi-literate women had completed the solar electrification of 504 houses in 48 villages all over the country.

Lessons Learnt:

So what are the universal lessons we have learnt from training poor illiterate rural women as solar engineers from 3 continents and 17 countries around the globe?

Lesson 1
Any middle aged illiterate woman from any part of the world who has never left her village can be trained in 6 months in India to be a competent and confident solar engineer.

Lesson 2
Prepare the community first by involving them in taking major decisions on behalf of the whole community and only then bring in the technology in the village. This will reduce the dependency on urban skills from outside. It will also give a sense of ownership.

Lesson 3
Keep all urban based paper qualified solar engineers away from the inaccessible non-electrified village because their top down approach is doomed to fail. They have neither the vision nor the courage nor the faith to select and train illiterate women as engineers. They also do not have the communication tools to speak as equal to poor communities.

Lesson 4
What makes the barefoot approach fundamentally different is that NO certificates, diplomas or degrees are issued after training to the women. The certification is done by the community they serve. The issuing of certificates is one major reason why migration takes places from the villages to the cities.

Lesson 5
To reach the very poor only a Partnership Model will work. Where providing the hardware is the responsibility of governments/donors and the repair and maintenance is the responsibility of the poor rural communities.

The “barefoot” approach has worked in 3 Continents, 17 countries and over 100 villages across the globe. Between 2005-2008 the total amount spent has been close to $ 2 million. Less than what is being wasted on ONE Millennium Village in one country in Africa.

 

There is no question. The demystified decentralized approach is the only long term solution to tackling the Energy crisis and Climate Change in the inaccessible villages around the world.

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