Solar Lamps Team Trip to India

Vort Port International (VPI)’s Nick Imbriglia (Electrical Engineer) and Merry Walker (Executive Director), flew from Washington, DC to Chennai, India to meet India Solar Lamps (ISL) team director Chandni Shah. In Chennai, the three met with potential microfinance institutions (MFIs) and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, including a visit to the remote village in which the team will pilot the ISL project. Since development started in March 2010, the team has grown rapidly from one director (Chandni Shah), adding three business analysts (Charu Vijaykumar, Leena El Seed, and Chris Yoder) and four engineers (Alrick Nelson, Pritham Prabhakher, Nick Imbriglia, and Merry Walker). The team has been working hard to bring alternative and sustainable lighting technology to rural communities in India. They have developed a robust and affordable solar lamp, seen here below, that requires only about one watt of power to light a four by four square foot space for six to eight hours.

The light is critical for families in the village, where children currently use kerosene lamps to do their homework at night, causing them to inhale harmful fumes. Additionally, the fishermen of the village rely on the small kerosene lamps (seen below) as they fish during the night.

Other lighting options include 60 or 100 W incandescent light bulbs fixed to the side of their huts and costly, battery-powered flashlights to light their path. The team noticed that the incandescent bulbs were haphazardly tied to the side of the hut with exposed wires that tapped into the intermittent grid. Grid power fluctuates based on availability; frequently, if nearby cities use more electricity, it is diverted away from the village, leaving the inhabitants completely in the dark. Furthermore, relying on grid-dependent light sources is extremely costly to families in the fishing village. The villagers were understandably enthusiastic about the ISL team’s prototype which was demoed during the visit. By visiting the site, the team was able to realize several design changes that they hope to implement prior to the pilot program. Furthermore, ISL envisions preparing material for teaching the villagers about concepts such as energy efficiency and why an LED-based solar lamp is more efficient than an incandescent bulb. Currently, the villagers view a bulb as a bulb, and they simply want something larger, not necessarily more efficient. However, the partner villagers seemed eager to learn new concepts and work with VPI/ISL on understanding solar energy and energy efficiency. The team looks forward to working in India with the villagers, including explaining solar technology and the economic and environmental potential it will bring to their community. ISL plans on collaborating with MFI’s to create economic opportunities for local women by enabling them to build and sell the lamp in neighboring areas.

The meetings with the NGOs and MFIs were promising: they showed interest in the technology and theorized how interactions between VPI/ISL, the local women entrepreneurs, and the villagers could play out. ISL and local MFI’s are still in discussion and working collectively on creating a comprehensive plan for the immediate future to ensure that the technology is appropriately disseminated to the communities that need the lamps the most. Overall, the excitement exhibited by all parties from this trip has been brought back to the team and will motivate us through the next phase of development as we continue to refine the design and implementation. The team is grateful to have been a part of this experience and looks forward to continuing this journey with partner NGOs, the villagers, and Vort Port International.

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