College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota
College of Science and Engineering
http://cse.umn.edu/

"Not all of us are dam engineers."

If you are looking to avoid the long, wide-eyed dramatic glances in Hindi drama shows, not even remote villages that aren't connected to the energy grid are safe. Ending the day in Rampur, the country's first rural village powered by solar energy, we were able to witness the unique juxtaposition of traditional rural life with the aspiration for luxuries once reserved for urban life. Street lights powered by a photovoltaic array light up narrow pathways spotted with cow dung.

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With a combination of the hospitality and roasted peanuts provided by the village and humorous photographs taken of the village children with their elusive goat, we established a quick bond in spite of the language barrier. Touring the solar energy plant as well as a few homes in the village, we were able to understand the impact of having access to this electricity that would not otherwise be available. We learned that over two-thirds of the 69 households in the village pay more than four times the standard rate for services that allow them to light and cool their homes, charge cell phones, and in some cases, power televisions.

With a desire to understand and develop sustainable business models, we later had a chai-fueled discussion assessing and comparing this model, which had external sources fund the installation of the plant, to other existing systems providing energy to rural communities.

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Prior to our stop in Rampur, we spent the afternoon at TARA Pahuj. This training site run by Development Alternatives focuses on integrated watershed management and agro-forestry initiatives and technology. After a Q+A session on the technical aspects of the variety of dams used in the area, we toured the rest of the agro-forestry training facility. At this site, we learned about precision agriculture equipment available for rent, agro-forestry cropping techniques combining traditional crops like barley and wheat with guava and lemon trees, as well as greenhouse structures that allow for an increase in crop variety.

With the high investment costs for these technologies and equipment, the formation of farmer's clubs that Development Alternatives facilitates allows for the farmers in the area to gain access to these methods to increase crop yield and variety in order to improve their livelihood.

One of the joys of travelling with a large number of engineering students is the attention to detail and the desire to understand the intricate mechanisms and the cost-benefit analysis for each system. With the limitation of the language barrier, often twenty-minute explanations are given instead of the two word answers we expect. Therefore, we are lucky to have a translator with a technical background that can help us answer our many specific queries, even if she sometimes just has to repeat them verbatim, in English, in a manner that the hosts can understand.

--Nathan Warner


 


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