IEEE Smart Village Helps Locals Harness the Himalayan Sun

Solar energy systems installed in remote communities

18 November 2016

In the developed world, the sunset doesn’t have much effect on our daily activities. But in rural villages the darkness is inescapable. Activities we take for granted, such as cooking reading, and studying, become difficult or impossible once nightfall arrives. What’s more, being without light can be dangerous. At the Lingshed Monastery high on a cliff in the Himalayas, for example, there are narrow and uneven pathways, so it’s difficult for people to get around in the dark.

The monastery, in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, India—known as the Roof of the World—includes a school and serves nearby villages.

Bringing renewable energy systems to remote areas in the Himalayas can change lives; in August, that’s what IEEE Smart Village did. The program aspires to bring electricity to 50 million people during the next decade while providing jobs to the community. IEEE Smart Village is a signature program of the IEEE Foundation, which provides funds for projects that can yield an immediate and broad impact and are sustainable over the long term.

To help us accomplish our goal, we partnered with Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), which works to provide solar power to remote regions in the area. Its volunteers helped us navigate through the mountains and set up equipment at locations throughout the community, including the monastery and an elementary school. IEEE volunteers from all over the world joined us.

REACHING THE SUMMIT

The logistics were complicated. We drove until the narrow dirt road high in the mountains ended. Then we traversed the steep mountains by foot, aided by 25 horses and 39 pack animals, to get our equipment to the site safely. After a two-day journey, we made it to Lingshed Monastery.

Exhausted, we were greeted by the entire village, including more than 100 students from the local school, who lined up to welcome the IEEE Smart Village team. The grade school is charming, but it was operating without electricity. With the exception of a few battery-powered lanterns, the monastery and school went completely dark at sundown. During the next three days, volunteers installed 14 DC microgrids and five 20-watt DC streetlights in the area.

After the work was completed, we joined the monks on a hilltop facing the monastery for a special moment. As the lights were turned on for the first time, we celebrated by dancing.

The impact of bringing electricity to this community will be profound. With financial support from the IEEE Foundation and other donors, the villagers are learning to operate and maintain sustainable power systems and customize them for their community’s needs. As a result, people will be able to live more productively and safely in their homes while also improving their local economy.

The Lingshed expedition brought sustainable power and a better quality of life to a remote village in the Himalayan Mountains, one lightbulb at a time. Stay tuned to see what GHE and IEEE Smart Village will accomplish next.

Mike Wilson is the senior program manager of IEEE Smart Village.