Socio-Cultural Dimensions of Cluster vs. Single Home Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems in Rural Nepal
This paper analyzes the socio-cultural dimensions of obstacles facing solar photovoltaic projects in two villages in rural Nepal. The study was conducted in Humla District, Nepal, one of the most remote and impoverished regions of the country. There are no roads in the district, homes lack running water and villagers’ health suffers from high levels of indoor air pollution from open cooking/heating fires and the smoky torches traditionally burned for light. The introduction of solar energy is important to these villagers, as it removes one major source of indoor air pollution from homes and provides brighter light than the traditional torches. Solar energy is preferable in many villages in the region due to the lack of suitable streams or rivers for micro-hydroelectric projects. In the villages under study in this paper, in-home solar electricity is a novel and recent innovation, and was installed within the last three years in two different geo-spatial styles, depending upon the configuration of homes in the village. In some villages, houses are grouped together, while in others households are widely dispersed. In the former, solar photovoltaic systems were installed in a “cluster” fashion with multiple homes utilizing power from a central battery store under the control of the householder storing the battery bank. In villages with widely spaced households, a single home system was used so that each home had a separate solar photovoltaic array, wiring system and battery bank. It became clear that the cluster system was the sensible choice due to the geographic layout of certain villages, but this put people into management groups that did not always work well due to caste or other differences. This paper describes the two systems and their management and usage costs and benefits from the perspective of the villagers themselves.
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