solar energy lights up 2500 years old human habitat

The 2500 years old human habitat Phuktal Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas has lit up for first time with solar energy, Here is the account of an engineer as to how this landmark solar energy project was started and completed with success.

On June 11, we started our work, screwdrivers became a hot commodity and someone seemed to be stealing them from all over the place. I found one randomly, when I’d seen our paramedic cleaning his ears with it, so I assumed he wouldn’t miss it and I confiscated it.

C-clippers into the walls that shattered with each bang and left us looking at the holes instead of a steady fixed cable, but we didn’t let ourselves discouraged and slowly, slowly managed to get all cables and lightbulb holders up, so they would stay in place for years to come. Maybe not 500 years, but hopefully long enough. The most amazing part of this was when the monks took the hammer from my hands and started to install the equipment themselves. First few times, it was not so perfect, but after that, they had done a better job than I did!

I learnt the practicalities of electrifying a place – maybe not enough to be able to electrify my own house (once I have it), but enough to understand the basics. Talks about converting AC to DC grid, cementing the solar panels on the rooftops, installing the streetlight in a grid or not so we could put up more lightbulbs up and ‘Who’s got the screwdriver?’ became normal even among the people with no background in energy or electricity. We had only a day and a half to install 7 mini-grids in the monastery, so we didn’t want to waste our time. It would’ve been a big disappointment for everyone involved, if we couldn’t finish on time.

In the afternoon of June 12, all the systems were up and ready to be checked by the electricians. I was there when they shouted: Grid One, 100%! That meant it works and some of the most important buildings in the life of the monks: prayer room, kitchen and eating space are being lit up. Now we only had to wait for the darkness to set so we could turn all the grids on and walk through the monastery in the light.

I was in the monastery mainly during the day, running up&down the steep stairs and I was wondering all the time what the life in darkness there must look like. With only a torchlight (if any) the monks are at risk of slipping, falling and missing a step. And I saw the little ones still running around the monastery like hurricanes! In the dark hallways you can easily hide, but also bump into someone else or into a wall. Or pee quickly before someone comes with a torchlight. All the talks in the West I’ve heard about how remote settlements need light and electricity are not capturing the real life in such a settlement. I wasn’t able to grasp all the benefits of having a light until I visited Phuktal.

There will now be more light in the kitchen

There will now be more light in the kitchen

An old monk who’s lived in a room without a light for 60 years. There is no more darkness in his room!

An old monk who’s lived in a room without a light for 60 years. There is no more darkness in his room!

One of the beautiful moments was when the lights in the prayer room after the evening prayers went on and everyone was cheering up, monks were thanking us, praised our work and unity of our group. Everyone felt emotional, so we gladly sipped our milk tea as though we were avoiding to spoil the moment by unnecessary words.

Being a part of another prayer – the morning prayer – when the monks were praying for the longevity of the grid was an experience by itself. Sitting there with my eyes closed, listening to all different instruments that at first sounded very off but then they made sense, calmed me down. They truly cared for the grid that wasn’t yet in place but was soon to become part of their everyday’s lives. Those moments will be documented forever, thanks to the NDTV team who filmed it all (and our whole expedition) and who will be releasing the documentary on August 15, so stay tuned.

phuktaSo long, Phuktal, I wish I could return one day. Thanks GHE for the opportunity and thanks to all the people I can now say are my friends!

Technical specifications of the installed system

8 micro-grids installed, 7 micro-grids of 250W capacity each on the monastery’s premises and 1 microgrid of 100W capacity in the guesthouse

7 micro-grids with each around 30 lightbulbs (3W, 320 lumens) and a streetlight (20W) – one grid has no streetlight, for which 3-4 more lightbulbs were installed

100W micro-grid: 15 LED and 1 DC LED TV

250W panel (30°-35° incline), 2 batteries in each grid (12V, 100A, led-acid) connected in series making it 24V system

1100 Wh current max load on the system – potential left for a higher load if needed

Current cabling is set to carry 20A, right now is carries 4A – potential left for grid extension

Street light is positioned max 10 meters from the battery, battery is positioned max 10m from the charge controller

1 DC HD LED TV operating on 12V with power consumption of 21W installed in the guest house

4 USB DC Mobile charger installed, with DC input of 9-35V and DC output of 5V

2 monks trained to operate & maintain the system

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