The story behind the Solar Village Initiative in Tamil Nadu

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In Puducherry, Auroville feels like a bubble isolated from urban life. The NGOs in this quiet town are slowly and steadily bringing about a change in the way the world functions. One of them is the Auroville Consulting Group,whose latest project being a “Solar Village Search Engine”.

Launched on 5th December last year, the engine continues to provide 100 percent electricity from solar power to the neighbouring Irumbai village. The search engine is the brainchild of Martin Scherfler, who co-founded Auroville Consulting in 2010 for the development of sustainable projects.

The Solar Village project stems from two motives — care for the people of the village of Irumbai and the universal care of the planet Earth. Solar Village has already started projects across India; the first phase of a solar lighting microfinance project in Uttar Pradesh was successfully launched last September.

Martin explains, “We want to share an uninterrupted power supply”. Adding further he said, “Every day, we have five to six hours of power shutdowns,varying with the season.”

Depending on the traffic to the search engine, a number of solar panels would be installed in the town by the group.

Locally Powered

The search engine is a financial tool and a publicity platform for their solar energy project. Auroville Consulting proposed to the Government of Tamil Nadu, the concept of solar panel installation in Irumbai Village in 2012 and it got approved under the Tamil Nadu Innovation Initiatives.

Typical methods of applying for grants and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are long drawn out and tedious. Martin says, “This idea of using a search engine came out of necessity. We are too small for international funding, and our experiences in India tell us the bureaucratic processes are tedious. We have been reading and researching for at least one-and-a-half years”. Their then project manager Ahmed Ibrahim also added to this and said “This is the first incentivised search engine in India.”

The idea is to make the village get access to and become energy positive within a year. “A regulation in the electricity act of India says a village fed by solar power will be exempted from power shutdowns. The residual power will float to the nearest village, thus reducing transmission losses, which is currently 17%.”

Martin and his team are on the lookout searching for business partners. “It will be a win-win situation if private enterprises join us. We could supply them solar power cheap, compared to other profit-driven units, and, in turn, we will have a source of income. The search engine helps us in getting visibility to attract these private sector parties.”

When a question was being asked to Martin, on why did he chose Irumbai, he responded by saying, “Irumbai is only 4 km away from Auroville. It is easier for us to monitor, trust and collaborate with this village. This region has been facing long hours of blackouts, affecting the daily livelihood of the villagers.”

To date, the villagers and local colleges have given them good feedback. At least 30 to 40 field trips have taken place. And with every visit, villagers are looking forward to see the commencement of this project. Martin explains, ““We have held multiple meetings with villagers, schools and local colleges, conducted energy audits, and trained local women and engineering students in solar panel installation. Since they are the ones who man the household, the women are supportive and open to learning. Once they learn it, we want to provide them with super-efficient fans to reduce power consumption, LED lights, efficient pumps”.

According to Ahmed, the search engine option assists an ordinary citizen in developing a village. “In urban cities, lifestyle is so busy people cannot contribute. The engine helps them contribute to the conservation of the planet and a better livelihood for a few villagers.” They are trying to develop an app or widget so that people use it rather than gravitate towards regulars like Google and Safari. “If people can’t even do that, we are doomed as a civilization,” quipped Martin.

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