The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) brought solar electricity to the village of Pulimarang in collaboration with the Centre for Renewable Energy (CRE) in Kathmandu, a non-profit organization working to promote decentralized energy options for Nepalese rural electrification. With support from the Moriah Fund, solar home systems (SHS) were installed in sixty-five homes and a community center in Nepal’s first solar powered village.
Although the mountains of Nepal are endowed with great hydroelectric potential, many of the villages at lower elevations do not have local hydro resources available to them. While electricity is available in the larger towns and villages near Kathmandu, the more distant villages do not have access to the utility grid, as line extensions through the high, rugged mountains are prohibitively expensive. Currently, only 11% of Nepal’s 20 million people have access to electricity. The vast remainder depends on kerosene and dry-cell batteries for illumination after dark, and has no access to television or radio for news and entertainment.
Each of the solar home systems in Pulimarang consisted of a Siemens Pro Charger 35-watt panel, a 70 amp-hour battery, and a charge controller. The systems power three 9-watt fluorescent lights, as well as a television or a radio. They were supplied by the Solar Electricity Company, a Kathmandu-based solar PV distributor. The SHS were installed by technicians from CRE, working in conjunction with Solar Electricity Co.
Initial financing for forty-seven $425 solar electric systems was provided by SELF. Villagers could pay for the systems with cash, or pay 20% down, and finance the rest over a one to three year period. Monthly loan payments on the systems are roughly equivalent to what Pulimarang families are currently paying for lighting in the form of kerosene and dry-cell batteries. Discounts were provided to families purchasing the systems upfront with cash. As the locally managed revolving fund has been replenished, eighteen additional systems have been financed by the solar committee.
Families with solar home systems are now able to read and study after dark, or extend the productive workday long after the sunsets. Villagers with electric lighting no longer complain of kerosene smells or irritated eyes due to smoke. For those families unable to purchase systems, a community center was electrified with fluorescent lights and a television. The Women’s Solar Committee has initiated a weaving program “under the solar lights” producing handcrafted woven goods for sale at the markets in the district town.
On May 14, 1994, Nepal’s Prime Minister traveled to Pulimarang for an inauguration ceremony of the project. He was met with an enthusiastic reception by cheering crowds, and promised future support for solar rural electrification, the only hope of providing household power to the majority of Nepal’s rural population. A video about the project entitled “Pulimarang: Towards Brightness” was produced by SELF, Siemens, and Nepal Television in 1994 and aired throughout Nepal. Based on the success of the Pulimarang pilot project, the Nepalese Government began a program to subsidize solar home systems throughout the country. According to SELF’s local project partners, “A sacred fire ignited by you is spreading!” With the cancellation of Arun 3, the World Bank-sponsored hydroelectric project in Nepal, the Bank has pledged to develop “alternative approaches to meeting Nepal’s energy needs.” With Pulimarang as a model, perhaps other villages will move “toward brightness” and develop solar electrification programs as well.