Distributed solar energy is capable of bringing light and electricity to thousands of people in the developing world that have literally been left “in the dark” by mainstream power infrastructure. One institution, The Barefoot College, has developed a novel approach to training solar technicians in India while helping to combat poverty and the disenfranchisement of many peoples around the world.
The Barefoot College doesn’t just have a unique name. It has a unique goal as well. Active since 1989, the institution has been focusing on developing and implementing innovative concepts to make use of solar energy in villages that are struggling to provide basic resources for its inhabitants. The institution is currently focused on developing solar energy solutions in four crucial zones.
- Solar electrification of more than a thousand villages.
- Providing access to hot water
- Cooking through solar energy
- Creating reserves of fresh drinking water through solar-powered desalination
The Training Philosophy at Barefoot College
The Barefoot College has a unique approach to Solar Energy Technology Training in India. The college is situated in Tilonia, a remote village in Rajasthan. Over the past forty years, the institution has taken the initiative in training people from the most rural and poor communities, regardless of their education qualifications to become highly skilled solar tech engineers.
The Solar Energy Technology Training program at Barefoot College is based around removing the mystery and apprehension that surrounds solar technology, and provides simplified training to the poor and uneducated communities. In the majority of cases, women are selected from rural villages from all over the globe, specifically places with limited or no access to electricity. Most often in these villages, energy is derived from oil lamps or wooden stoves that cause extensive pollution, resulting in poor health conditions.
Up until now, the Barefoot College has selected women from Afghanistan, Jordan, Belize, Nepal, and Sierra Leone to come and stay for 6 months in Tilonia where they undergo training to become solar energy technicians. The 6-month training program can be grueling. The women have many obstacles to overcome not the least of which is travelling to another country when most will have never before left their villages. Many of them have absolutely no educational background, and are even unable to read. However, they develop their own language, which could be a combination of sign language and images to learn about solar technology, identify the various components, solder together circuit boards, and even manufacture solar lamps.
Barefoot College has proved that both illiterate and semi-literate men and women can fabricate, install, use, repair and maintain sophisticated solar units through basic knowledge share and hands-on practical training. The results have been far reaching considering the modest size of The Barefoot College’s program. As of March of this year:
- 1,160 villages have been electrified by solar energy.
- 450,000 people have light.
- 740 female Barefoot solar technicians have been trained.
For more information or to donate to this cause, please visit their website.
Tracey is an accountant and entrepreneur with a passion for nature. This passion is what spurred her interest in renewable energy, and the rest is history as they say. Tracey is a principal in Energy Think Group, the publisher of Solar Thermal Magazine and Tek-Think. She is also the principal at Women's Financial Help Desk. She spends her free time in the outdoors with her horses and dogs. She loves to travel.