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

The Barefoot College in India is training villagers to install solar lighting systems in the Himalayas.

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.

I now look back at my childhood where I always dreamt of doing something big for my society. My mother laughed at me. Now my family and even the village elders respect me and value my contributions.

Ritma, a Barefoot Solar Engineer

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. 

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.

The Barefoot College was established in 1972 with the aim of encouraging people to gain practical knowledge and skills rather than achieving paper qualifications. It runs housing, environment, health, education and income generation projects. Training, equipment and other project costs are funded by grants from national and local governments, and international donors.

Key points:

  • Both fixed solar home systems (SHS), and solar lanterns provided
  • Project works on a community basis. At the start, community must form an Energy and Environment Committee with at least 30% women
  • Committee decides the monthly payment each family must make for their solar lighting system. Payments cover the cost of maintaining the systems
  • Committee choses men and women from the poorest families to train as BSEs
  • BSEs have 3-6 months training at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan. Training covers installation, maintenance and repair of home solar lighting systems, solar water heaters, solar vegetable driers and solar cookers
  • College buys photovoltaic modules, batteries and materials, and the BSEs make other components of the solar systems
  • Six other rural workshops have been established elsewhere in the Himalayas
  • Committee collects monthly payments, checks that families maintain systems, and monitors the work of the BSEs
  • Less reliance on kerosene reduces air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions
  • Improved light gives the opportunity for study, relaxation and work
  • Solar water heaters means that water no longer freezes in the cold winters
  • Vegetable driers and spinning wheels generate much needed employment and income