SECMOL School : Solar in the Himalayas


This summer, Chris Brooks of Remote Energy joined Chris Strouthopoulos and the engineering dept of San Juan College (New Mexico, USA) to teach a hands-on PV training program and lead an off-grid installation  at a school in the Indus Valley in the Ladakhi region of northern India. Ladakh is a high desert region in the remote Indian Himalayas, with a culture and history drawing from Tibet, India, Kashmir and Central Asia.   Until the 1960s this region was not connected by road to the outside world.

The workshop included students from San Juan Collage and students and staff of SECMOL School.  SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh)  has pioneered the reform of India’s struggling governmental school system and the campus has grown into an eco-village where students, staff and volunteers live, work and learn together. It’s not a conventional school, but a place where students pursue practical, environmental, social and traditional knowledge, values and skills.  SECMOL equips young Ladakhis and others growing up in Ladakh, especially those from rural or disadvantaged backgrounds, with the knowledge, skills, perspective, and confidence to choose and build a sustainable future. Solar PV will prove to be a big part of this future as recent Indian government initiatives aim to develop substantial renewable energy projects in the region.

The SECMOL campus is off-grid and has been struggling for years with an antiquated PV system and battery bank which has limped along in disrepair.   Despite their solid grasp on energy efficiency and conservation and some of the greatest solar resource on earth, the students of SECMOL were forced to frequently run their generator to supply their conservative electrical loads.   It was very evident that there was a lack of sufficient technical capacity to design and install a sustainable PV system.

The PV workshop Chris conducted was designed to meet this need.  Students were introduced to the basic skills necessary to design, install and maintain a standalone system.  Special emphasis was put on topics that are typically misunderstood in the region: Safety, battery selection,  sizing and maintenance, conductor types and sizing, ove-rcurrent protection, system integration.  Each topic focused on PV system sustainability which is critical in remote areas.   As part of the learning process the 12 students from San Juan Collage worked alongside staff and students from SECMOL School to install the critical system upgrades.   A new battery bank, charge controller and inverter were installed.   Over current protection and disconnects were added. The PV modules and racking were repaired and re-wired and new, larger AC wires were run from the power plant to the school.  

The training workshop and installation proved to be a great success for everyone involved.  The San Juan College students had the valuable experience of studying PV in the context of international, rural, sustainable development and the students of SECMOL now have the knowledge base and confidence to operate and maintain their new PV system.  Plans are already being made for future PV projects on campus and in the region.

Here is a great article on the relevancy of education by the founding director of SEMCOL Sonam Wangchuk.

This project was conducted in memory of our friend Mike Sullivan.   His passion for life and PV in the Himalayas has inspired many.   A special thanks goes out to all of the people, businesses and organizations that have donated money, materials and time to make it a successes. 

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