Microgrids Lighting Up Villages, and Lives, in India’s Himalayas

Originally focused solely on helping intrepid trekkers survive and enjoy India’s Himalayas, Global Himalayan Expeditions (GHE) is bringing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to remote mountain villages and communities in India’s Kargil and Ladakh provinces that date back centuries.

Making use of DC solarenergy storage microgrid technology developed in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) — the country’s premier training ground for engineering talent — GHE has installed 95 highly efficient DC solar-energy storage microgrids (total 19.6 kW) in 22 villages since it launched its non-profit electrification program in 2014, GHE Founder and CEO Paras Loomba told Renewable Energy World.

They are small by industry standards, but they’re making a big difference in people’s lives, many of whom have never had access to electricity before. Along with emissions-free power generation, to date GHE has installed 2,000 LED light bulbs, 60 LED street lights and 36 LED TVs as part of its mountain community electrification drive.

Local, Environmentally and Culturally Friendly Socioeconomic Development

An IEEE Global Partner, GHE draws on the talent and skills of an IIT technical team in designing, engineering and installing its DC solar-storage microgrids, as well as LED lighting it manufactures, in villages in India’s Kargil and Ladakh that on average require a four- to five-day trek on foot to reach from the nearest vehicle access point.

GHE’s DC solar-energy storage microgrids are improving the lives, and livelihoods, of some 5,130 Himalayan community residents and counting. More than half are female, Loomba wrote in an email response to questions. Added to that is an estimated total of 8,200, mainly trekkers, who have passed through these villages during the past three years.

microgridsGHE has joined with village residents to create 15 mountain home-stays that are now electrified, benefiting villagers and trekkers alike, Loomba elaborated. To date, that has boosted the income villagers earn from tourism by approximately $24,000.

The emissions-free electricity generated, stored and distributed by GHE’s microgrids is also reducing the money villagers spend on kerosene — about 63 tones worth annually, according to Loomba. That’s reducing the villages’ annual carbon gas emissions by 157 tons.

It has also set up two education centers and an E-Base online distance learning program that promote experiential education with curricula that revolve around themes of sustainable living and commercial enterprise. Some 1,200 students have benefited by taking advantage of these new applied educational opportunities thus far.

Solar Energy and Sustainable Tourism

GHE has also trained 35 villagers as entry-level solar technicians — creating green jobs and greatly increasing the likelihood the village solar-energy storage microgrids will continue to operate and perform well for many years.

In addition, the nonprofit organization directly or indirectly employs 43 villagers to assist in carrying out expeditions, village surveys and solar grid installations. Fifteen have been women leading home-stay activities. More recently, GHE began carrying out leadership expeditions for GE.

Looking ahead over the course of 2017, GHE intends to install solar-storage microgrids in the remainder of villages in Ladakh province — about 30 — it hasn’t electrified yet. Most are located in India’s remote northwestern Zanskar region.

Planning beyond 2017, GHE is working to expand and bring solar-storage microgrids, communications technology, educational and other resources to mountain communities in neighboring Nepal, as well as farther afield, to Kazakhstan and all the way to Peru.

“There are some villages in northwestern Nepal that require a 10- to 15-day trek to get to and lack grid access,” Loomba said. “Our focus will always remain on working with the most remote communities of the world.”

Near-term, GHE is planning two Ladakh expeditions slated to begin in June and September 2017. Those interested in lending a hand and gaining some hands-on solar-storage microgrid, or just trekking in some of the most remote and difficult, but awe inspiring mountain and cultural adventure travel experiences in the world can check out GHE’s website.

Images credit: Global Himalayan Expeditions

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Andrew reports on renewable energy, clean technology and other issues and topics from posts abroad and here in the US.

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