About half of the population of the Himalayas has no access to electricity. Until recently, the 700 residents of Lingshed village were among them. Located in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas, the remote village is nearly a day's trek from the nearest road, which itself is impassable during the long winter months.
In August 2016, a group of engineer volunteers trekked to Lingshed (elevation: 4,000 meters) to install solar-powered direct-current microgrids at the 900-year-old Lingshed monastery as well as the dormitories of the local school. They also created a computer lab with a satellite Internet link that now doubles as an Internet café for trekkers. Each microgrid includes a 250-watt PV panel, a pair of 12-volt lead-acid batteries specially designed for solar systems, and about thirty 3-watt LED light bulbs.
Using direct current rather than alternating current makes sense for an off-grid setting like Lingshed, says Paras Loomba, head of Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), the nonprofit group that organized this project. “The main power grid runs on AC, but solar panels run on DC. So if you can run the LEDs on DC, then you don’t lose efficiency in converting to AC,” he explains. Since Loomba founded the company in 2013, GHE has set up solar microgrids in 22 Ladakh villages.
Each of the engineers who worked on the Lingshed project was a volunteer who signed on through the IEEE Smart Village program, GHE’s partner on this and several other installations in the Himalayas. Now a major program of the IEEE Foundation, Smart Village promotes sustainable electrification in the developing world and aims to reach more than 50 million people over the next decade.