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Case study of a solar photovoltaic elementary lightning system for a poor and remote mountain village in Nepal

Zahnd, Alexander (2004) Case study of a solar photovoltaic elementary lightning system for a poor and remote mountain village in Nepal. Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.

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Nepal is situated in the lap of the Himalayas and landlocked between China to the north, and India to the south. The country is known for its natural beauty, and as the land of the highest mountains in the world. 88 % of Nepal’s population live in remote and difficult to access mountain areas. It is one of the only countries in the world with a lower female life expectancy rate than the male. While in the cities it has become “normal” to have access to energy services, 85% of Nepal’s rural communities are deprived of even the most basic energy services. 99% of the 2 billion people in the world that are without access to electricity, live in developing countries. Nepal is one of these countries, and four out of five live in rural areas. Furthermore, over 90% of the population of Nepal belongs to the 2.4 billion people relying on traditional biomass such as firewood, agricultural residues and dung, for their day to day cooking, heating and lighting purposes.

The village of Chauganphaya, in the northwestern district of Humla, belongs to the poorest villages of Nepal. Here, as elsewhere in Nepal, the forests are gradually being stripped bare, to meet the minimum energy needs of cooking, heating and lighting for the village folk. Unfortunately this is being done without any sustainable reforestation efforts. Furthermore, cooking and heating indoors on open fire places has had a direct chronic impact on the health of village folk, resulting in the low life expectancy for women, and the high death rate of children under 5.

This thesis goes into detail about various lighting technologies available for the remote mountain communities and suggests that the WLED lights are a real option for elementary rural electrification. This conclusion has been drawn on the basis of an electrification project undertaken in the above mentioned village of Chauganphaya. Efforts made through a solar PV village electrification project with low wattage WLED technology, were successful, in that all 63 homes of the village of Chauganphaya are now able to have three lights each in their homes. This was made possible with each light consuming only 1 Watt and with a locally developed and manufactured 2-axis self-tracking frame for the four 75-Watt solar PV modules. The Powerhouse with the self-tracking frame, battery bank and its charging and discharging units are centrally located in the village. The whole village has been divided into four clusters, with 15-18 homes per cluster. The central powerhouse is connected to the main house of each of the clusters by means of an underground power line distribution network through armored cables. Likewise, each house in a cluster is connected to the main cluster home by means of an underground armored cable. In this way the power distribution is approximately equal and in the case of one cluster distribution line facing a problem, the other homes in that cluster are not effected and will still have power.

This rural electrification project was not undertaken in a vacuum but as one part of a wider holistic grass root community development project. In the initial stage, a detailed survey, with questions specifically designed for this community was conducted, in order to assess the living conditions of the people. In the next stage, with the help of the outcome of the survey, four integrated projects were developed to improve the living conditions of the people. These projects aim to address the most urgent needs of the people as identified by themselves. Following is a gist of these projects:
• The rural electrification project with low wattage WLED technology.
• Each family from the Chauganphaya village has been able to purchase an improved smokeless metal stove at a subsidized rate. This has been specially designed to accommodate their cooking and eating habits, based on locally available foods. It also heats their rooms for most of the year, and has provisions for boiling water.
• In order to be able to purchase such a stove at a subsidised rate, each household had to build a pit latrine, after undergoing a simple training in building such a latrine.
• The whole village community participated in the repair, and rebuilding of their village drinking water system, with the result that there are several tap stands to be found in the village.

The survey undertaken before any of these projects were carried out will be repeated once a year, to assess the actual impact these projects have, on a long-term basis.

Developing and carrying out these projects in the challenging environment we find ourselves in, with the ongoing political unrest and the continuing war between the Government troops and the rebels, and the ever present caste system has been an enormous task. Nonetheless, at the time of writing this, the electrification project should have been fully installed and operational. There are some minor improvements still needed, such as, the unexpected voltage drop in one cluster due to extended underground cable installation. Mitigation of that is planned as early as the political situation allows it.

The thesis goes into details about various lighting technologies for remote mountain communities, arguing that WLED lights are a real option for this purpose. In order to design a solar PV system according to the local conditions, it is crucial to understand the available solar energy resource. As no solar irradiation data for Chauganphaya or Humla are available, a study was undertaken to gather data from the NASA web site, and to generate solar irradiation data through the METEONORM software tool. As both these methods rely only on satellite data, a solar radiation monitoring and data recording system was designed, built and installed in the KU HARS in Simikot. Since May 2004, the daily solar radiation is being recorded on a horizontal, a 30° south inclined, and on a 2-axis self-tracking solar PV frame.

The Simikot HARS and Chauganphaya solar PV systems are designed with a back of the envelope, as well as with a professional solar PV system design software tool, called PVSyst3.31. All the different equipment used in both PV systems are looked at in detail in this thesis. In comparison to the HARS and the Chauganphaya village PV systems, the Tangin village SHS project, installed by a private company through the Government solar PV subsidy program, serves as a comparative case study.

Sustainability and appropriateness are crucial factors, which have to be considered in any rural community development project. What is appropriate technology and how one can strive towards more sustainable projects, is looked at on the basis of the experience of the Chauganphaya village project. “What can be Learned” tries to highlight the most important lessons learned form this project, up to the present stage. The thesis concludes, that the installed solar PV village system in Chauganphaya is an appropriate way to enable the poorest of the poor to bring light into their dark homes. It also reiterates the fact that additional to the lights, the smokeless metal stove, the pit latrine, and access to clean and pure drinking water, are important integrated parts of an appropriate holistic community development endeavour. It is expected that their synergetic effect will multiply the final impact upon the improved living conditions of the local community as opposed to their individual benefits.

Publication Type: Thesis (Masters by Coursework)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Engineering and Energy
Supervisor: Pryor, Trevor
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