Methodological and Technological issues in Technology Transfer

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Case Study 14

Rural Electrification Using Photovoltaics in Ladakh, India
Arne Jacobson
Energy and Resources Group
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3050

Keywords:Ladakh, India, photovoltaic, rural electrification, S S.

In the Ladakh region of India, government funded photovoltaic (PV) systems are used for rural electrification. The system capital costs are covered by the government; homeowners must pay for maintenance costs. Systems have been installed by several agencies. One, an NGO called the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC), has successfully installed long lasting systems. Two contributing factors to their success are the SWRC's development of a maintenance infrastructure for PV systems and Indian government standards on the design and installation of PV systems.

The SWRC's success contributes to a high demand for PV among Ladakhi villagers. Local policymakers have responded by allocating money for PV. However, the focus is on installing new systems, not on building a maintenance infrastructure. There is a danger that despite the SWRC's positive example, a large number of PV systems will be installed without provision for maintenance.

Ladakh is an isolated high desert in northern India. The 100,000 sq. km region is sparsely populated by subsistence farmers and nomadic herders (pop. 170,000).

Approximately 85% of the population has some access to electricity. Plans are in place to electrify the remaining portion in the next few years, mostly using PV.

Barriers for PV electrification include mountainous terrain, bad roads, a harsh winter climate, low population density, and a lack of skilled technicians and managers. To date, low rural per capita income (estimated at $US 45/yr) has not proven problematic, but only because of large subsidies.

PV electrification is funded by the Indian Government. Funds are distributed to NGOs and private contractors through state and local government agencies.

PV systems cost about $US 450, and consist of a 35 watt solar panel, a 75 Ahr deep cycle battery, a charge controller with low voltage disconnect, and 2 fluorescent lamps (9-11 watt). The winter solar resource in Ladakh allows for three hours of lighting per day.

PV systems are popular among villagers and policymakers. Reasons include low cost per electrified family, short installation times, and a reputation for reliability. Of 200 surveyed systems, 71% were fully functional, 27% were partially functional, and 2% were non-functional. However, the average age of the surveyed systems was only 2.4 years; more failures are likely to occur in time.

The short-term success of the systems is in part because government standards require the use of quality components.

PV System Maintenance:
There are two arrangements for maintaining PV systems. The most common is a one year warranty on parts and labour. After one year these systems generally are not properly maintained, as family incomes are low and no businesses in Ladakh service PV systems or sell the appropriate components.

Approximately 1,000 of the systems were installed by the SWRC, a local NGO in the Tilonia school network in India. The SWRC has done an excellent job of developing a village level maintenance infrastructure for servicing its PV systems. The programme includes an extensive hands-on training programme for village technicians. Homeowners pay a monthly fee ($US 0.70, covers ~50% of the post-technician training maintenance cost) in exchange for a ten year maintenance contract. Many of the SWRC systems still operate with their original batteries; a few of these systems are ten years old.

Unfortunately, system owners who are not in the SWRC network do not have access to their maintenance programme; this is due in part to the large distances between villages.

Success of PV Leads to More Installations:
The demand for electricity in Ladakh and the success of the SWRC's PV electrification programme have created pressure on local officials to install more systems. The response was to allocate funds for 2,000 systems for 1997 to 1999.

However, most of these installations will not follow the SWRC's methodology. Instead, the focus is on installing new systems; little money or time is allocated to developing a maintenance infrastructure. This approach will likely result in future problems, as systems that are not maintained will fail prematurely.

Approximately 5,000 PV systems are installed in Ladakh; 25% of the population is receiving electricity from solar energy. However, 70% of these installations have occurred in the last three years, and lack of maintenance may prove problematic.

Lessons Learned

Lack of funding is not an issue due to subsidies. Replication of this work will require access to capital.

Jacobson, A., 1997: Renewable Energy Resource Data Collection in Ladakh, India.Technical Report Delivered to the Ladakh Ecological Development Group.
Maithel, Malhotra, Prasad, and Singh, 1998: Renewable Energy Plan for Ladakh Region. Tata Energy Research Institute, New Delhi.
MNES, 1996: Solar Energy Group of the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources, Document No. 32/371/96-97/PV/SE, Government of India.

Mr. Sonam Dawa, Executive Councillor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, Ladakh 194101, India. Tel: 91-1982-52397 Fax: 91-1982-52212.
Mr. Anchuk Colon, Director, Social Work and Research Center (SWRC), Leh, Ladakh 194101, India

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