Today we meet briefly with Ana-Maria and Basu, who run a local co-operative who distribute solar lanterns. The lanterns allow people to work in the evenings, often producing handicrafts. Basu and his family have just opened a shop that not only do they sell solar lanterns from, but it also allows members of the community can sell their goods for a fair price. We plan to meet again in the afternoon to for some filming and take the camera to the elephant breeding centre for the morning.
On the way we see electricity being stolen. Although the community we pass through is officially electrified, many people cannot afford the cost of connection. Instead, they buy a couple of cables, attach hooks to the ends and hook them over the uninsulated steel transmission cables. When the NEA come to check up on things, then they are simply unhooked. Even if the NEA get wind of what’s going on, then there is strength in numbers as many people are doing the same and the NEA will often be chased out of the community!
When we meet up with Basu, we rent bicycles and ride out to the local school. We’re there to see the community library he has established, as well as the office for the revolving loan fund that allows people to buy the solar lanterns. The fund was started with money from international donors and each time somebody borrows money to buy a lantern or other renewable energy product, then they repay it with interest and the amount of money in the fund increases, allowing more people to access it and to purchase larger systems. The fund is made up of smaller co-operatives of 5-10 women, who all take out the loan together. If one person cannot afford to pay, then her friends must pay for her. However, just the thought of this is almost always enough to ensure that each person pays their share on time and the fund has close to a 100% collection rate.
Next we head to the house of a family who have purchased a solar lantern. At around 1,000 rupees (around £8), they’re cheap, however they wouldn’t have been able to afford it without the loan from the fund. They lantern is a DLight, one of the most popular solar lanterns and I have to say that I was extremely impressed by it. It’s a far better product than a wind turbine if all you need is electric light as you can take it wherever you go and the sun shines every single day to recharge it. With no moving parts, its so simple and we’re told that they are extremely reliable. The next generation will even have a USB port to charge mobile phones from!
Out the back of the house, there is also a biogas digester. Deforestation from people chopping firewood was becoming a serious problem in Chitwan National Park, so the local authority heavily subsidised biogas digesters to produce not only gas for cooking, but also get rid of animal waste from around the house and create a high-quality fertiliser – killing three birds with one stone, what a great renewable energy solution!
In the next two houses we visit, one has a solar lantern and the other doesn’t. In the house that doesn’t, they have only a kerosene lamp that gives out very little light, continually flickers and is extremely yellow. As many of the houses are made from bamboo with straw roves, it only takes a moment of distraction and your house is up in flames. We conduct the interview with the kerosene lamp for lighting and right on cue, the lamp runs out of fuel in the middle of the last question! We also find out that the children of the kerosene lamp house go over to the solar lantern house every night to read and their father says that they are doing better in school because of it.