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Barefoot College, India

Solar energy brings light and employment

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Photovoltaic modules have to be carried on foot to remote villages in the Himalayas

The Barefoot College believes that practical skills as much as paper qualifications are crucial in supporting and developing the poorest and least literate communities. The training of villagers to install solar lighting systems in the Himalayas captures perfectly that philosophy.

Burdened by temperatures of -40 degrees centigrade in winter and with only six hours of daylight, local communities in the Himalayas often lack the funds needed to buy kerosene for lighting and heating. The Barefoot College’s answer is not short-term subsidy, but practical solutions and training. Barefoot engineers from the poorest communities are trained over a period of three to six months in the installation and maintenance of solar lighting systems developed by the college. By 2009, 472 had qualified.

The College encourages the communities to take responsibility for their energy needs. Each community must form an Energy Committee and chose its own candidates for training. At least 30% of the committee members must be women. The Committee is responsible for deciding how much each family must pay for the system and for administering the system once it is up and running. Like the system itself, responsibility is a long-term investment.

Success can be measured by numbers. 20,000 solar lighting systems and 65 heating systems in 753 villages by 2009, not only in India but in other parts of Asia and Africa. However, in a less-polluted environment offering greater job opportunities, success can be measured as much by improved lives.