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The role of renewable energy technology in holistic community development

Zahnd, Alexander (2012) The role of renewable energy technology in holistic community development. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Embargoed until 31 December 2050.


Nepal is a unique country, in regard to its culture, people, geography, ecosystems and climate. It is situated in the lap of the Himalayas, landlocked between China to the north and India to the south, east and west. It was previously cut-off by thick forests and jungles infested with malaria and dangerous animals, and its culture developed in isolation from any foreign influence.

The rich resources of Nepal, in particular the abundant water flowing from the Himalayas down to the Indian sub-continent, and its abundant solar energy, are heavily underutilised. Thus, ~75% of Nepal’s rural people are deprived of even the most basic energy services. They rely on traditional biomass such as firewood, agricultural residues and dung, for their daily cooking, heating and lighting purposes. With a human development index (HDI) of 0.458, Nepal ranks among the poorest developing countries.

Theory and practice reveal that in recent decades, community development addressed mostly the individual needs of projects’ end-users, with often minimal interaction and participation of the receiver. This resulted in minimal long-term impact and/or new opportunities for the beneficiaries.

The thesis aims to make a contribution to an improved approach to the community development of Nepal’s people within their context and identified needs. It argues that appropriate and sustainable solutions for long-term development of local communities demand that people’s self identified needs are recognised and addressed in holistic ways. This is because communities have multi-faceted needs, which are all dependent on, and interlinked with, each other, and thus can’t be addressed through single-strand projects. Further, utilising the communities’ locally available resources is crucial for long-term sustainable development.

Accordingly, the thesis’ main research questions are:
• What is the appropriate role of renewable energy technology in holistic community development? and
• Does the newly developed holistic community development concept of the “Family of 4” and the “Family of 4 PLUS” provide a sustainable way of improving the quality of life for remote and impoverished mountain communities in Nepal?

The research shows that tapping into the locally available renewable energy resources, and converting them through contextualised renewable energy technologies, has to be a central part of community development. This is done, through the study of practical examples of appropriate technologies for some of Nepal’s remotest, high-altitude village communities, who live under the harshest imaginable conditions.

The research shows that the most commonly expressed needs of the communities are for improved and easier access to basic energy services, and better hygiene and health conditions. Therefore the author developed the new Holistic Community Development (HCD) concept of the “Family of 4” (a Pit Latrine, a Stove, Basic Indoor Lighting and Clean Drinking Water). Once the “Family of 4” HCD is effectively implemented, the “Family of 4 PLUS”, with various additional measures (such as greenhouse, solar drier, solar water heater, slow sand water filter) is introduced.

This thesis looks at the role of renewable energy technologies (RETs), designed for a specific context, to meet identified community needs embedded in the new HCD concepts. RETs such as solar PV, solar thermal (water heating, food cooking and drying), pico-hydro power, small wind turbines and biomass (firewood) cooking and heating stoves, are discussed within the context of implemented, village based, HCD projects.

Impact data presented show encouraging results, and thus it can be claimed that the main research questions can be positively affirmed. The HCD approach produces synergies between the various components which provide additional benefits to the recipients at no extra cost. The newly developed RETs and HCD concepts include various new locally manufactured technologies, providing a contribution to the steady growth of the local economy. Numerous suggestions and recommendations for further R&D are presented.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Engineering and Energy
Supervisor(s): Jennings, Philip and Freere, Peter
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