First days in Kathmandu and KAPEG presentation

Two weeks ago, my train from Chennai was arriving in the Gorakhpur train station. After more than 2700 km and 42 hours sharing a sleeper-class bed and after some long discussions with very nice people, I was happy to be arrived in this little indian city close to the Nepali border.


On the train

Railways and pollution in Gorakhpur

I stayed two nights and one day there, where I enjoyed some rest (with my first hot shower since my departure from France) and the city visit before taking a first bus to reach the border gateway at Sunauli. From Sunauli, I took a last bus that went through some mountains and others beautiful landscapes before dropping me in the middle of Kathmandu, a bit lost and tired after almost an entire day in bus !

Gorakhnath Temple and its pond

Gorakhnath Temple and its pond

Gorakhnath temple

Gorakhnath Temple

Cows in the street (Gorakhpur)

Cows in the street (Gorakhpur)

Cycle Rickshaw - Gorakhpur (video link)

Cycle Rickshaw – Gorakhpur (video link)

Border Gateway - Welcome to Nepal

Border Gateway – Welcome to Nepal

At my arrival, I met two friends that I had met for the first time in Auroville, Antoine and Claudine. They just left yesterday and I’ve really enjoyed these days together. We’ve visited most of the places in Kathmandu, especially Durbar Square, Swayambunath also called the Monkey Temple and the famous commercial district of Thamel.

Antoine and Claudine - Durbar Square

Antoine and Claudine – Durbar Square

Durbar Square

Durbar Square and all its pigeons !

Shiva Representation - Durbar Square

Shiva Representation – Durbar Square


With the Sadhus !

Lord Buddha - Swayambunath

Lord Buddha – Swayambunath


Swayambunath – Monkey Temple

A monkey overhanging Kathmandu city

A monkey overhanging Kathmandu city

Monkeys and eagles

Monkeys and eagles

Kathmandu is agitated during the day when motorcycles, cycle-rickshaw, taxis and cars are going through the crowd in the narrow streets of the city, especially during Saturday. Indeed here the holiday day is on Saturday and people are working on Sunday. All this heavy traffic in a city surrounded by mountains causes an important air pollution and we can see that many people are wearing a mask to avoid some respiratory problems. Except these problems of air and noise pollutions, as it is the case in most of the big cities, Kathmandu is a very beautiful city and Nepalese people are magnificent.



Nepalese children

Nepalese girl

Nepalese girl

A Nepalese people with mask

A Nepali wearing a mask

Despite having the second largest hydropower resource in the world, the electricity supply is not sufficient and there are approximately 10-14 hours of electricity per day in Kathmandu, with scheduled power cuts among 7 groups of districts. If you go in the mountains, the electricity supply is an entirely different matter.

Telecom and electric cables

Telecom and electric cables

KAPEG, Kathmandu Alternative Power and Energy Group, is a social company that is working on developing new energy technology to bring innovative solutions to overcome Nepal’s geographical and meteorological particular constraints. By primarily developing some new technologies, KAPEG also aspires to be socially involved. Therefore, the company is installing different pilot projects in extreme areas both in order to test the technology and to help population that are living there. The last project was the construction and the installation of a small wind turbine in a very isolated place somewhere in the Kalahandi district in Odisha (East India).

Kimon and Sulav, two 26-year-old KAPEG engineers, welcomed me this week and we are currently preparing a market assessment in the Jumla district that should start end of next week. Tomorrow, I’ll visit the Kathmandu office of the Practical Action NGO in order to get more information about the place and some tips for the market assessment.

Kimon and the small wind turbine in Kalahandi

Kimon and the small wind turbine in Kalahandi

The next article will introduce the different objectives and missions of the Jumla district visit as well as some statistics about this place. Stay tuned !

MinVayu – ORSED project : The first assessment

For my first visit in Kanyakumari district, I was with Sundar, a social development expert at ORSED, and we stayed together in Aralvaimozhi for the assessment, in the house of Neela and his family, who I would like to give a very warm thank-you for their very warm welcome.


Vishnu before going to school – Neela’s son

This article presents the progress in the market assessment, especially the different objectives according to the current situation, noticed with some primary data obtained during several discussions with farmers, and the precise region of interest.


Replace old diesel water pumps with wind-electric water pumping systems to protect the environment and reduce the annual farmers’ water-pumping cost (1), provide a better electricity access (2) in the village and help them to access basic electrical appliances such as water-purifying devices (3), which we would like to implement in order to reduce some disease risks due to coliform bacteria and pesticides… These three axes constitute the main objectives for the project in the Southern Tamil Nadu.

1. Replace old diesel water pumps with wind-electric water pumping systems

Very often we remarked that the electrical grid is really close to the banana or paddy crops, even in some places we saw transmission towers into these fields, but farmers still use diesel generators to pump the water during the dry season (see graph below) while they could use the electricity just over their heads… The question is why do they need diesel generator if the grid comes to the field?

The answer is quiet simple: there is no electricity within the grid, at least mere three, four or five hours of power per day and mostly at night time. By law, the Indian government has to provide free electricity to the farmers and is officially supporting the farms through numerous subsidies… but in the reality, this is really different. For the “lucky” farmers, the place is already electrified but they have no power most of the time. The others, i.e. most of the farmers, are still waiting to be relied to the grid, which would take a very long time and, most importantly, would be very costly.


A water pump in banana fields

The Indian government is also subsidising the diesel but the cost remains expansive for the farmers. Our solution is to install wind, solar or hybrid systems, depending on the precise location, to replace these old polluting diesel pumps.

How to convince a farmer to pay, even a little, for such systems if he knows that the government should provide him free electricity access?

The mandatory requirement should be that the new system has to be cheaper than the diesel pump running costs, including installation and maintenance costs. To check this requirement, we first need to have precise data on the average annual expenditures for the diesel water pumping systems.


Diesel generator protected from the rain with wood plank and banana leafs

Obviously this budget would not be the same for each farmer mostly because they are facing different constraints such as the depth of the water that is not constant, the generator that could be more or less efficient, etc. Therefore, the cost of each installations should be unique because of proper constraints and individual budget.

What would think a farmer if he has to pay more for a similar system than his neighbour? We should pay attention to equalised the price, which could be done through a community pricing system that has to be precisely determined. 

2. Provide a better electricity access

As we said before, the Government of India has to provide electricity to the farmers that represent approximately 119 millions Indian people according to the census 2011, without including the family of each farmer that would finally represent three or four times this number. Now, can someone explain to us how a government can provide free electricity to 400 millions people? Especially when this one is buying the electricity to private companies? I think, and I guess that you are thinking the same also, that this is not possible, even in the best of worlds. The only solution for the government to “fulfil” its obligations is to delay the grid expansion and to power the small electrified villages grid only three or four hours per day…

We are able to create small electricity production unit in farms and in the villages around, we would be able to provide them 24/24 electricity, the problem is how to finance these systems? Most of the farmers cannot afford directly this kind of necessary “luxury” for their development and that is why any company is trying to invest in this huge potential market… the risk of no-repayment is very high and of course this last one represents also an important constraint for the project that we are developing. Thus, the key to provide a better electricity access is to find a sustainable social financial system mainly by giving incentives to the farmers… a water purification system ?

3. Install water purification systems

Instead, install water purification systems could give them an incentive to pay for an electricity access because they will pay for something they can identify in the daily life, i.e. that they will pay for a recipient of purified water and then indirectly pay for the electricity. Firstly, this system will reduce different disease risks and could be a first step before they fully realise the different opportunities given by a constant electricity access: fridge, light, fans, TV, internet, etc.

The precise region of interest

Due to some confidentiality about the project, I cannot say the exact name of each place that we’ve visited. However, I’ve created an high resolution map for the project that give the frame of the covered region. Each case represents an area with proper wind and solar ressources. To be precise, I have found different meteorological hourly data from 2002 to 2011 for 81 GPS zone (from A1 to I9) and 100 GPS coordinates. These data will allow us to determine what is the best solution at a macro level between wind, solar or hybrid systems according to the available renewable energy ressources and their intermittency. The analysis is in progress.

High resolution map of the covered areas

High resolution map of the covered areas

Finally, this kind of project reveals how it is important to have a good understanding of the climate in the region, especially in terms of wind ressources, solar ressources and, last but not least, water ressources. Fortunately, ORSED has a great expertise in meteorology forecasting as well as social expertise and its experience about climate studies in Tamil Nadu is necessary and very helpful for the analysis. Basically, the state has three distinct seasons:

  • The dry season from January to May
  • The South West monsoon: moderate rainfall with strong southwest winds – from June to September
  • The North East monsoon: Important rainfall with dominant northeast winds – from October to December
Monthly average rainfalls (2004-2010) - Kanyakumari district

Monthly average rainfalls (2004-2010) – Kanyakumari district (source: India Meteorological Department – IMD)

To conclude, the climate is changing and seasons are not identical from one year to the next one. Indeed, you can observe on the graph above that the separation between season is not so clear over the average of the 2004-2010 period. That leads to an higher degree of uncertainty that complicates forecasting in the one hand but also exposes farmers to an higher risks of losses in the other hand, especially for those who don’t have water pumps, and the aim of our social project is also to bring different answers for these issues.

Me with "rich" farmers

We’ve visited different farmers, these ones were rich and offered me (too much) coconut juice (see T-shirt)

Visiting Kanyakumari area for a market assessment

At the moment in Auroville, I’ll leave next week to visit different windy places around Kanyakumari, in the Southern Tamil Nadu. In cooperation with ORSED we will conduct a social market analysis in order to assess different characteristics concerning the population and the field for finding the best place to implement the first project.

Wind Map - Tamil Nadu

Wind Map – Tamil Nadu

As an economist, I would have expected a precise survey which could be done only in few days but the local conditions and culture don’t allow this kind of process. A market assessment in farms is much more complicated in the sense that you need the entire trust of the farmers before asking precise questions, which requests a certain dexterity and tact. Luckily the indian population is very welcoming with the foreigners and I’m very enthusiastic about this survey. To conclude, this weekend is a good time for the trip preparation while it is also the 60th birthday of the Pondicherry Liberation Day, when french territories were transferred to India.

Locally built small wind turbine development for the most isolated areas

Small wind turbinesOrigins

The idea of a locally built small wind turbine came from Hugh Piggott when he decided to build his own wind turbine on the Scoraig island in Scotland, a very windy region, in the 1980’s. After different projects for his neighbors, he defined the design for producing small wind turbines at low costs without any complex tools and making them suitable to be built with different local materials.

Nowadays, a lot of engineers from many different countries have adapted Piggott’s models by making the turbines well fitted for their respective rural areas and creating their own organisation. In November 2014, the 2nd Wind Empowerment Global Conference will gather all these different organisations, providing an opportunity to diffuse and share the global knowledge about small wind turbines and facilitate the electrification of poor rural areas in the world.

Hugh Piggott

Hugh Piggott

A mutual-benefits philosophy

“Saving by learning and learning by doing.” could represent the locally built wind turbine philosophy. Transfer the technology through different training workshops to farmers, villagers, etc., allows the organisation to delegate the operation and maintenance of the turbine and, by the way, reduce their costs. If you can teach some people living in the village the basics of the technology and the safety rules, you would not be obliged to hire a technician in case of problems which would imply added transportation costs and wages. Furthermore, the workshop is productive as the entire turbine is built and installed when people are learning the building process. Finally, each organisation can use workshops as a way of doing research, testing others systems in order to improve the entire technology.

Workshop Costs

A universal technology

Basically, a wind turbine is converting kinetic energy from the wind into electrical energy, which could be used for battery charging, water pumping, etc.. The blades of the turbine receive a part of the wind airflow and move magnet rotors, which convert the kinetic energy into a rotating magnetic field around another part called the stator transforming the magnetic energy into electricity. The small wind turbines power capacity starts from less than 1 kWh to more than 10 kWh, generally varying with the stator’s diameter and blades’ size.

The small wind turbine technology

The small wind turbine technology – From Jon Leary’s thesis – Adapted from Roland Beile / Tripalium

This initial technology is not only open source, it allows a flexibility for the local manufacturers to adapt the turbine’s design to the local constraints. In this sense, there are many possibilities according to the environment resources (wind speed, humidity, mountains or plains, availability of skills, electricity demand, etc.) to create the custom-fitted small wind turbine and improve its technical efficiency.

Global wind resources

Global wind resources

Use wind and light the world

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), approximately 1.2 billion people still have no access to electricity including 300 millions people in India. Most of whom are living in very poor rural areas, often very isolated and out of the grid.

People without electricity access

People without electricity access

If we consider the following graphic, the concave trend shows that the first kWh available has an important impact on the Human Development Index (HDI), which means that the electrification stage plays an important role in the development. By the way, small wind turbines as well as solar panels have to seize this important demand in order to improve local living conditions providing green electricity.

HDI function of electricity consumption

HDI function of the annual electricity consumption (Source: UNDP 2006)

However, it is important to consider the embodied energy, also called grey energy that represents the sum of all the energy used during the lifecycle (production, extraction, processing, manufacturing, transportation, implementation, use, maintenance and recycling) of a product. In this regard, small wind turbines should be far more competitive compared to solar panels as many pieces are built on the site with local materials mainly using human energy. One of the research axes in the future could be to find a way for easily determining the embodied energy in small wind turbines.

From wind water pumping to Internet

In the south of Tamil Nadu (Kanyakumari areas), the places are very windy according to multiple data sources (i.e. 3TIER previous wind map) and appear to be very suitable for developing and testing new generation wind water pumping technology. Moreover, there is more than 26 millions diesel water pumps in India which should be replaced using solar or wind energy. The Indian government has recently planed to invest 1.6 billions dollars (100 billions Indian rupees) in the next 5 years in order to replace 200,000 diesel water pumps (less than 1% of the market). In exchange, farmers would have to use drip irrigation system in order to save water resources. This investment of 1.6 billions dollars shows how important is the market to replace 3hp and 5hp diesel water pumps.

Indian Government in New Delhi

Indian Government in New Delhi

Following this objective, MinVayu is working on developing new technologies for more efficient wind turbines, especially to make the wind turbine systems lighter, easier to transport, install and maintain by testing some materials like bamboo. In cooperation with ORSED, their objective is to replace thousands of old diesel water pumps in the next years. By replacing this old system, this project would have a positive impact on the environment as well as on the trades balances and government budget of India, which is importing petrol and giving subsidies to sustain farmers’ diesel demand for water pumping.

Bamboo center for testing

Bamboo center for testing (Auroville)

To conclude, hundreds of small wind turbine installations would allow to create an important network reducing the maintenance costs and the non-repayment risk, especially if we are able to create a system with different incentives like battery charging in home and internet connection. The development of a such system would be the key to obtain fundings for developing a sustainable rural electrification as well as installing smart irrigation system and providing an access to the global network.

Wherever you go, pocket-sized solar panels will provide you electricity !

Yesterday morning, I received a very nice tool, maybe essential, to get electricity when I’ll be in isolated farms in South India or during a trek in Nepal’s mountains… a portable charging kit with an accumulator and 2 little solar panels !


With this kind of new technology equipment, you can produce electricity for all your portable devices (phone, camera, etc.). A sunny weather is required, since it needs 2-4 hours of sun per day to fully charge a smartphone or a camera.


The price for this kind of product is still quiet expansive, from $50 to $400, but could be a good investment if you prepare a long trip where there is scarce electricity. If you are interested in purchasing one, you can have a look on this website that compares most of the portable solar panels.

Thanks to this kit, I will be able to take a lot of pictures for this blog and my camera will never run out of power !

New article about small wind turbines is coming soon.