Variety

Who is afraid of sundown?

Ishika Gupta | Updated on January 24, 2018

Radiate hope Lucas Spangher and (right) Emmanuel Marcus Von Russell

A Karnataka village steps out confidently after dark, thanks to two good Samaritans



Anil Kumar Anthony is a first-year commerce student at the Royal Composite PU College in Chintamani. This taluk in Chikkaballapur district of Karnataka receives just three hours of electricity supply during daytime and four hours in the evening. It was a struggle for Anthony to study at night under a kerosene lamp or candlelight.

The erratic power supply affected the entire village as people struggled to cook in the dark, women and children dared not venture out at night, and everyone was afraid of being bitten by snakes or other poisonous animals.

Since May 12, however, 57 families in the village have been hooked up to an alternative power supply — solar energy. It all began after Lucas Spangher arrived in India in August 2014 as a freshly minted graduate in Statistics and Computer Science from the Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Having earlier interned at two Silicon Valley start-ups, he had tired of the high-pressure office environment and began questioning whether his work made any real impact on the world. That led him to explore the potential of solar energy as an unconventional power source to improve infrastructure in developing nations. He got lucky when the National Science Foundation in the US awarded him ₹9 lakh to travel and research for his project in India.

During ten months of research in rural Maharashtra and Karnataka, Spangher devised a system in which one micro-grid connected to a single solar panel, inverter, internal wiring, electrical components, weather-resistant pipes and battery can provide ten houses with back-up electricity for up to four hours. The panel charges the battery, which then powers the four lights installed in each home through the night. The 300-watt solar panel and 100-ampere battery help lower cost by harnessing the efficiency of scale for these technologies. Two systems serving 57 families have been installed in the village at a cost of about ₹7,000 per family.

Spangher has been assisted in his efforts by Emmanuel Marcus Von Russell, a Neuroscience and Environmental Studies major at Columbia University School of General Studies. Together they have identified three diverse sources of funding, including online crowdfunding through crowdrise.com and microcredit organisation Sangha in Chintamani, besides the funding from the National Science Foundation.

Russell has directed and edited a video showcasing the solar project in Chintamani, and in this the villagers describe their difficult living conditions in the absence of electricity. Potential donors can view this video on crowdrise.com. Additionally, pictures, videos, statistics and updates related to the project are disseminated through various social media platforms to help raise more funds. The duo set a target of $4,000 on crowdrise.com and have so far collected $1,751.

The partnership with Sangha helps ensure the project is sustainable and does not impose any financial burden on the villagers. Villagers initially pay a lump sum of ₹1,000 and subsequently a monthly fee of ₹100, which the Sangha will later use to implement a similar solar power system in a neighbouring village. So far, ₹35,000 has been collected under this method.

The National Science Foundation has contributed ₹2 lakh towards the project and efforts are on to tap funding through corporate social responsibility. The aim is to install a new system every 6-8 months across villages, so that many more Anils can study and pursue their dreams in peace.

The writer is a media student in Delhi University

Published on June 05, 2015

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