Army of barefoot solar engineers

The only fully solar-electrified institution, Barefoot College has trained rural men and women as Barefoot Solar Engineers (BSEs). They have built and installed solar units in 10,000 households, covering 574 villages across 16 states in the country.

Starting in 1989, barefoot solar engineers have installed a total of 40 kilowatts of solar panes and five battery banks, each containing 136 deep-cycle batteries. The solar components (inverters, charge controllers, battery boxes, stands) were all fabricated in the college itself.

Drawing on its experience of providing solar electricity on its own campus, Barefoot College has worked to bring alternative energy to remote villages through the use of solar photovoltaic panes on a large scale across the country. Rural poor literate or semi-literate men and women from the country with little or no educational qualifications, are learning to be barefoot solar engineers (BSEs). These BSEs have completed energy systems that totally generate as much electricity as the largest centralised solar power plant in India, the 500-kilowatt plant in Maharashtra. More than 340 people from eight countries in Asia, Africa and South America have also been trained as BSEs. They have solar electrified 550 schools and 13,000 households in more than 600 villages across the globe. They have assembled and installed over 10,000 solar home lighting systems and 4,400 solar lanterns, for a total installed capacity of 646 kilowatts.

“We are delighted, honoured and humbled by this award,” said Bunker Roy. “The recognition is to Mahatma Gandhi who has shown the simple way of how to respect the Earth,” he added. The Barefoot College began in 1972 with the conviction that solutions to rural problems lie within the community.

The College addresses problems of drinking water, girl education, health and sanitation, rural unemployment, income generation, electricity and power, as well as social awareness and the conservation of ecological systems in rural communities. The college encourages practical knowledge and skills rather than paper qualifications through a learning by doing process of education. The College was entirely built by Barefoot Architects. The campus consists of residences, a guest house, a library, dining room, meeting halls, an open air theatre, an administrative block, a ten-bed referral base hospital, pathological laboratory, teacher's training unit, water testing laboratory, a Post Office, STD/ISD call booth, a Craft Shop and Development Centre, an Internet dhaba (cafe), a puppet workshop, an audio visual unit, a screen printing press, a dormitory for residential trainees and a 700,000 litre rainwater harvesting tank. The College is also completely solar-electrified.

As part of its rainwater harvesting initiative, the College has taken up:

* 470 underground tanks (tankas) with a total capacity of 29 million litres built for rainwater collection in Rajasthan employing 109,000 persons.

* The tanks (tankas) were constructed in schools and community centres.

* Because of the availability of potable water the attendance of girls in these schools has increased significantly.

* 4500 landless labourers have given 150,000 days of employment to build these tank (tankas). Villagers have contributed 1.5 million rupees (INR) worth of their voluntary labour in the construction of the tanks(tankas).

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