Harnessing the Himalayan Sun

By Mike Wilson, IEEE Smart Village

In the developed world, the sunset doesn’t have much effect on our activities. But in rural villages — for example, a monastery perched high in the Himalayan Mountains — the darkness of nightfall is inescapable. Activities we take for granted — cooking reading or studying, for example — become impossible in the complete darkness of nightfall. What’s more, the monastery is perched on a cliff at in a location called the Roof of the World, and features narrow, uneven pathways. This adds a real element of danger to life at night.

So it’s no surprise that creating a renewable energy system in such a location can change lives. In August 2016, a team of Himalayan community members, led by our partner Global Himalayan Expedition and with support from IEEE Smart Village and volunteers from all over the world did exactly that at the Lingshed Monastery in the far regions of Northern India.

The logistics were complicated. High in the mountains, we drove until the narrow dirt road ended. Then, we traversed the steep mountains by foot, aided by 25 horses and 39 pack animals to get our equipment safely to the site. After a two-day journey, we finally made it to the Lingshed Monastery.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Lee

Exhausted, we were greeted by the entire village. Uniformed students lined up to welcome the IEEE Smart Village team to their school, which supports around 100 primary grade students. The school is a charming, wonderful resource for this community. But here’s the catch: the students and monks of Lingshed were operating without power. Except for a few battery-powered lanterns, the monastery and school went completely dark at sundown.

Over the next three days, IEEE Smart Village volunteers assisted the GHE team as they installed 14 direct current (DC) microgrids and five brilliant 20-watt DC outdoor street lights.

Video courtesy of Hamish Lee

After all of the work was done, we joined the monks on a hilltop, facing the monastery, for a special moment. As the lights were turned on for the first time, we celebrated with dancing and enjoyed each other’s company.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Lee

The impact on this community will be profound. With our financial support, the villagers are learning to operate, maintain and innovate within their sustainable power systems. As a result, they will be able to live more productively and safely in their homes, improving and sustaining the local economy. The Lingshed expedition brought sustainable power and a better quality of life to a remote village in the Himalayan Mountains, one light bulb at a time. We’re excited to see what GHE will accomplish next.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Lee