Emerald Awards Submission
Note that the numbers refer to the requirements of the submission form
1. Sustainable lighting for Norung village
2. The project addresses the need for a viable sustainable lighting system in a remote village in Nepal, particularly to encourage the development of reading skills in school children. A white light emitting diode lamp energized by a rechargeable battery was provide to each of 45 homes initially. A central charging system employing solar panels was installed on the school building in the village.
3. The project started in the fall of 1998 with a visit to the village of Norung, located in a remote part of Nepal, during which an agreement to complete the village school building and to provide a teacher was reached. During this visit the villagers were asked to consider what were their greatest needs. Their unanimous decision was for the provision of a lighting system. This was later validated by a house to house survey. The solar panels and the initial set of lights were installed in October, 2000. The project continues with monitoring activities and the provision of additional lights and support as needed.
4. The project was initiated by Faith Harckham, a resident of Canmore, Alberta, and undertaken by her and Anthony Harckham, with assistance from Dr. D. Irving-Halliday of the University of Calgary, who provided the design for the lighting system, and Netra Mani Rai and Muni Raj Upadhyaya of Kathmandu, Nepal.
5. The purpose of the project was to meet the need identified by the villagers to provide an effective lighting source into the homes of the village, with a particular goal of promoting education in the village. The village is located due south of Mount Everest and at approximately 27 degrees north of the equator experiences a fairly even split between daylight and night time, year round. The school children in this subsistence agriculture community have work to do, fetching water, finding firewood, looking after animals or their younger siblings. Hence the opportunity to read is usually only during periods of darkness and the availability of light therefore plays a critical role in the education process.
The village is remote in terms of access: the easiest way of reaching is a 45 minute flight by Twin Otter from Kathmandu to Lamidanda, followed by a walk up and across the Rawa Khola: the walk takes a load carrying villager a single day: for the visitor it is nearly two days along paths which vary from 5 feet wide and roughly leveled to a narrow 6 inch edge of slippery sod dividing two paddy fields.
A road is planned into the region to a local town called Salieri, which is a good day’s walk in the opposite direction and across the Dudh Khosi, one of the largest rivers in the region. The delivery of power is likely to lag the road initiatives by many years. Infrastructure costs are high because of the terrain over which the routes must cross, and the high rate of landslides which have already caused havoc with the existing water distribution pipes installed in parts of the region.
Light is at present provided either by ghee lamps ( these burn clarified butter which is an important food source for the people) or by kerosene lamps. These latter are usually simple open wick lamps, though in some cases pressure lamps are used which afford much better lighting. Kerosene is expensive in Nepal and for it to reach Norung the villagers have to go on a ten day round trip trek to a commercial centre and carry the kerosene to the village on their backs. This is usually done in tins which are roughly stopped with rags which results in seepage onto the backs of the porters, creating sores because of the corrosive nature of the kerosene.
These open lamps add to the smoke and soot inside the houses and hence contribute to the chronic lung and general health problems of the villagers. Hence we needed a light source which would not create pollution in the houses and which did not depend on the continual carriage of the energy source into the village. It also had to be a low operating cost system, robust to the rigours of transportation into the village and able to operate with minimal intervention.
A number of options were considered and a decision was made that the actual lighting unit should be as efficient as possible so as to place minimum demands for power on whatever source was contemplated. For the actual energy source the alternatives reviewed were the use of hand-pedal generators, wind generators and solar panels. It was decided that the higher initial cost of the solar panels was justified by the ease of operation and the demonstrated state of the technology. The lights chosen were white light emitting diodes housed in a light unit to be constructed in Kathmandu and operating from a sealed lead acid battery.
Each household was presented with a light and a battery. The houses vary little in design, being constructed of mud and stones with a thatched roof, two doors and no windows. The simple ground floor room was typically 12 feet by 15 feet, with a sleeping area above accessed by a ladder. The room is dark and very smoky due to the open wood fire in its centre.
The diodes offered the best efficiency at turning electricity into light, have extremely long mean time between failure ( greater than 10,000 hours), and are extremely robust to physical shock once installed in the lighting units. They possess none of the fragility of the glass envelopes. In practice of 45 units taken to the village by air and then by porters, all were operational when they were installed.
The lights consists of 9 diodes mounted in a circle which consume about 1 watt of power. The light is mounted on a double bracket in the roof of the houses and can be adjusted to sine in any direction. It offers a cone of light which illuminates the central cooking fire as well providing a lighted area sufficient for several children to read in. The lead acid battery is stowed in a corner of the room, on one occasion sharing a hole in the mud wall designed to accommodate a broody chicken. A switch is provided to reduce the risk of damage to the battery terminals by the too frequent attachment and removal of the lug terminals on the wires leading to the lamps.
The solar panels were installed on the roof of the school which is roughly in the center of the village. The village is somewhat spread out and extends for at least a mile in each direction and from bottom to top of the village is a height gain if perhaps 1500 feet. The school building has a galvanized metal roof and is built of substantial lumber in filled with mud and stones and then lime washed in the local traditional colours of white and brown. The end of the roof was orientated in an approximately southerly direction and five panels were installed on an iron frame which was bolted onto the roof members. It has been subsequently decided to remove some trees which provide partial shade onto the panels.
The village is highly terraced as may be imagined from the height gain. This means that the panels are approximately level with the next higher terrace above the school. Typically terraces are perhaps 20 feet wide. This means that the village children have to be told not to throw stones onto the roof.
The solar panels are connected to five regulators in the school office: each regulator has wired connections to support the charging of five batteries simultaneously. The regulators are then connected in parallel to two larger lead acid storage batteries which provide backup power in case the solar panel output is insufficient during the wet days of the rainy season.
Four lights are installed in the school itself: one in each of the three classrooms, which are by nature somewhat dark, and one in the school office which also serves a crucial meeting space for the village.
Although the system is designed to need minimal intervention and maintenance it was fortunate that one person was found in the village who was both interested and capable of looking after the installation. To provide guidance to this person an operating manual was provided which covered the basic steps of what might be needed e.g. the stripping of a wire to replace a lug terminal, and checking on the acid levels in the main storage batteries. It was discovered during the installation process that even a screwdriver represented a technology which was not hitherto present in the village.
Subsequently the village has, on their own initiative, instigated a number of rules. A nominal fee of 10 rupees ( about 20 cents) is levied for each time a battery is charged. This provides a fund to pay for the eventual extension or replacement of the system. The village also checks that the lights are being used in the approved fashion, that the plastic protection over the diodes is in place to stop them from becoming coated with soot, and that it is cleaned regularly. Hence it may be seen that the village has stepped up to the responsibility of looking after the system and for enhancing it.
After the initial installation Muni made a visit to the village to take an additional 10 lights which were needed because some of the larger families occupy two houses and hence need two lights. He also improved the frame supporting the solar panels which had been originally been supplied too short to fully support the panels. The one regulator which appears to be slightly faulty was also checked. This was Muni’s first visit to the village and, as a Kathmandu dweller, an eye-opener into rural conditions.
The 12 volt battery has been found to last up to 3 weeks before requiring a recharge, with an average daily use of 4 to 5 hours.
The location of the charging centre in the school was dictated partly because it is the only “civic” building in the village, and partly because it reinforces the role of education as a primary purpose of the lighting. The school teacher, whose salary is also paid by Faith Harckham, has been asked to lead the development of a women’s group to define income generating projects based on the provision of small loans along the same lines as the Grameen Bank in Bangla Desh, and also to institute a library day when students can read books which were also brought to the village by Faith and Anthony. These books are brightly coloured early readers which are attractive to young children and which are in stark contrast to the poorly printed black and white books supplied in the school.
In terms of results it is too early to tell: the initial school project has resulted in a local boy achieving the top student position at the regional school to which he has gone after graduating from the grades 1 to 3 school which is located in the village. It was only too evident what the introduction of lights into the homes meant to some of the families who watched the installation in some degree of wonder. Two small girls dancing in a circle of light where no light was before is an image to be remembered.
The village has been shown that the goal of getting lights into all the homes can be achieved and that they do not have to wait for regional plans and central bureaucracy to put infrastructure in place.
6. The tangible environmental benefits are that light is being provided using a renewable source, sunlight. It is being effectively delivered into the homes of those who need it. There has been no need to construct power lines for energy distribution, and there is no diversion of water to provide hydro power. This is a real problem in the region because of the instability of hillsides and terrain in general due to hydraulic loading during the rainy season. There is also a reduction in the demand for kerosene, a fossil fuel and the release of nutritious butter for food rather than fuel. The clarification of butter to produce ghee also consume quantities of precious firewood, which in turn reduces the probability of landslides due the reduction in clearing of the jungle around the village.
The other tangible benefit is a small reduction in the pollution level of the homes, with some anticipated health benefits.
7. The intangible environmental benefits include the fact this project has demonstrated what can be done for relatively little capital investment, and that the lighting project could be replicated in other villages with similar benefits.
It also suggests some possibilities of moving away from the use of firewood for cooking purposes: although the power consumption is much higher than for lighting it could provide an inestimable benefit to village life.
The children are being better educated and this will allow them to more effectively undertake added value jobs rather than pursuing the subsistence farming in the village, leading in turn to a reduction in the clearing of land which is extremely marginal for agriculture and which provides support for the substantially reduced local fauna.
8. The commitment is shown by Faith Harckham through her devotion of her revenues from the sale of art work to this project. The project has been entirely funded from this single source. The commitment is also evident in the successful involvement of the village in the project, first to decide what it was they wanted and then to successfully operate and manage the system. The project has also been placed in a holistic vision by keying it to education as a means of providing ongoing benefits both economical and environmental.
The commitment has been throughout the project, from visiting the village to see what was needed, to finding an appropriate means of meeting the need, to returning to the visit to educate the village and to install the equipment.
9. The project is innovative because it has taken a new technology and placed in the most primitive of societies in a framework which will allow it to be successful.
10. The potential for substantially changing the life of the village for better, through education and through the economic projects initiative, shows that the rural life is sustainable in Nepal and that the migration to the cities is not a foregone conclusion. The project has meaning in this larger context for Nepal and for elsewhere. It even has applicability in North America where the increasing costs and shortages of energy are showing that the need for energy efficient lighting, amongst other needs, exists for all of us.