India: Rural regions get solar boost


Renewable Devices Charitable Trust Ltd director and trustee, Will Howell, has been based in Bangalore since July, where he has been interacting with local communities in order to determine how best to apply renewable technology solutions in rural areas.

Through his research, he has identified a number of projects where solar energy, for example, can help to ease the burden of those living without regular and sustainable access to electricity. As a result, the charity, which is currently seeking funding for its projects, is hoping to install a number of renewable energy solutions within the next six months.

Lighting up

For instance, in the rural village of Basettihalli, located approximately 50 miles North of Bangalore City, the local school – over 400 pupils from ages six to 18 currently attend – is to receive solar lighting and a network of energy efficient computers. Having secured almost £4,000 GBP in funding from Durgam Charitable Trust, Selco will implement the solar installations.

Howell tells pv magazine, “The lighting in the 12 classrooms at present is a mix of incandescent bulbs and old CFL tubes. The rooms on the upper level have sufficient light during the day, but on a dull day the lower rooms offer insufficient light for educational purposes. To achieve efficient, safe and bright light, we will install four 11W DC CFL units in each corner of the lower six rooms, plus one further system in the office.

“Each room will be treated individually, and two 60 watt solar modules will feed a 120Ah battery to support the lighting load in each. We will also ensure that the systems are designed to run for longer than seven hours for the daytime classes, as they can then achieve their goal of offering night classes in these rooms for the older students in the lead up to their final exams. We are also looking at alternative community uses for the spaces such as adult night classes, micro manufacture or educational talks and seminars.”

Inconsistent supply

Both solar lighting and solar-powered water pumps are the focus of RD Charitable Trust’s second Southern Indian project. Situated 40 miles south west of Bangalore, the people of Averegere Colony have been struggling with an inconsistent power supply from the grid. Thus, the key challenges facing the population of around 200 are lighting and water supply.

Howell continues: “As the village has so many homes, each with a relatively small energy requirement, it does not make economical sense to provide a separate solar powered battery installation for every family. Instead, we will supply each one with one small, study solar lantern for their children, and one larger solar lantern to provide lighting for their main room.

“Solar lantern technology has improved so much in the past few years, and the latest models use very efficient LED bulbs and NiMH battery technology to provide reliable, bright and safe lighting suitable for illuminating a room. The other advantage is that these lanterns are small and portable, so can be taken outside to tend to livestock or visit an outbuilding. A small detachable solar panel will be provided to each home to recharge their lamps, so they can be charged during the day ready for the next night, thus requiring no reliance on the grid supply.”

He adds that RD Charitable Trust will partner with social enterprise Thrive, based in Hyderabad, to supply the solar lanterns, as well as install a new solar powered water pump in the village using components manufactured at their local community workshop.

“These solutions will provide reliable energy and water solutions for many years to come,” explains Howell, “and the extra hours of workable light in the evenings will not only help those studying in order for them to get better grades from school, but will also encourage the locals to start micro industry projects to generate an extra income to help sustain their families.”

Going organic

The third solar project currently being planned by the charity involves an organic farming training centre in the rural village of Lakshmipura, 60 miles south west of Bangalore. Owned by Indian NGO, Beacon, there are a number of families living at the center, which tend to the farmland in the surrounding area, or raise livestock such as cattle or sheep to support themselves. Beacon is looking to teach more farmers about the various methods involved with organic food cultivation.

In order to improve conditions, RD Charitable Trust is hoping to install a solar water supply and irrigation system to ensure the success of crops. Furthermore, the building housing the families will be provided with solar lanterns and a small solar powered battery solution.

Renewable recycling

Underlining the innovation present in the solar industry, Thrive, one of the solar study lamp manufacturers used by RD Charitable Trust, has come up with a unique way of recycling damaged solar cells.

As Howell explains, because the lamps require such small amounts of power – around half a watt – Thrive buys up cells that are not fit for commercial use, and cuts them into smaller pieces, which are useable. As a result, wastage of damaged cells is noticeably reduced.

Continuing with the theme of solar lighting, Howell adds that he will be introducing a course over the next few weeks, which aims to teach rural villagers how to build torches for their families through the use of basic micro solar electronic components. “The torches are based on a UK design and will be a good educational tool for school children as well as a potential source of income for rural families,” he says. “I'm just working on build instructions and translations for the theory elements so that our NGO partner here can continue with the workshops after we've left at the end of the year.”

Small steps

While RD Charitable Trust projects are small, they will help to make a huge difference to the people living in their communities. Not only that, but it is encouraging to see a company from a country, which is not a big player on the solar scene, reaching out to rural communities in some of the further flung places of the planet.

The Indian solar industry is developing at an impressive pace, especially since the introduction of its national solar mission, which aims to establish India as a global leader in solar energy by creating the policy conditions for its diffusion across the country "as quickly as possible".

The mission has set a target of 20,000 megawatts and stipulates implementation and achievement of the target in three phases – first phase up to 2012-13; second phase from 2013 to 2017; and the third phase from 2017 to 2022 – for various components, including grid connected solar power.

Hopefully with people like Will Howell, however, the country will not forget those who need renewable energy the most, in its bid to shape itself as a solar giant on the world market.

For more information about the charity, please visit

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