Final Report: Sustainable Energy Systems Design for a Tribal Village in India

EPA Grant Number: SU831883
Title: Sustainable Energy Systems Design for a Tribal Village in India
Investigators: Ramaswami, Anu , Bliley, Stephen , Coder, Jason , Dellaport, John , Erdene, Bagi , Grabbe, Robert , Hetherington, Christine , Kocman, Shauna , Krug, Ryan , Mancilla, Fernando , McGregor, Brian , Olsen, Tim , Padron, Luis , Pitterle, Mark , Rex, Andrew , Sturtyvant, Paul , Thongplew, Natapol , Werther, Rachel , Whitaker, Mike , Willson, Bryan
Institution: University of Colorado at Denver
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: October 1, 2004 through March 31, 2005
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


A. Description:

We are working to sustainably meet the energy needs of more than 1000 villagers in the Narmada River Valley in Maharashtra. India, where a series of large dams are displacing more than one million indigenous people from their homes and land. The energy needs identified for the communities include:

  • 4-5 hours of light per family per night.
  • 1 refrigerator for the village to store vital vaccines and medicines.
  • Electricity for pumping drinking water and for irrigation.
  • Energy-efficient stoves to reduce indoor air pollution and preserve local vegetation.

The self-identified needs of the villagers in the valley are by no means extravagant. They represent the simplicity of their lifestyle and their desire to improve specific aspects.

B. The overarching goal of this project is to develop an innovative, integrate energy system for villagers that meets their energy needs while also satisfying the following criteria:

  1. Meets performance and safety goals (technical criteria),
  2. Uses renewable resources, promoting ecosystem sustainability,
  3. Minimizes the release of harmful/toxic chemicals (environmental sustainability)
  4. Uses local materials and skills to develop low cost, replicable engineering solutions that are economically sustainable in the local area, and,
  5. Applies collaborative design methods to ensure locally- and culturally-appropriate solutions that will promote social sustainability of the project.

Thus this project applies in the field several of the principles of green engineering that have been articulated recently. An important educational goal of this project is to foster creativity in engineering design instruction, and, to promote learning about key issues in sustainable development across cultural and disciplinary boundaries.

C. Scope and Objectives:

The specific engineering objectives of our project are to:

  • Conduct a site assessment trip to the Narmada valley to learn first-hand about the energy needs of the villages, and to discuss the available environmental, human and technical resources of the PLaCES team, Indian NGO partners and the villagers.
  • Develop a model for participatory planning and collaborative engineering design between the three groups listed above.
  • Create and test innovative engineering designs for the sustainable, integrated village energy system at CU Denver, focusing on lab-scale and pilot-scale prototypes.
  • Conduct a Collaborative Design Workshop in India with the villagers and NGO partners to share the designs developed at the CU labs, and to iteratively improve them.
  • Incorporate life cycle costs (LCC) and life cycle environmental assessments (LCA) to enable the villagers to choose the most sustainable energy system design for the specific spatial scale and organization of their village.

Our overall project is conducted in two integrated Phases, as described next.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Based on the priorities expressed by the villagers, Phase I focused on:

  • Developing multi-functional, energy-efficient home lighting units to minimize household energy demand, and,
  • Designing energy supply through wind resources appropriate for three different spatial scales: the village-scale, the hamlet scale, and the home-scale. (Solar photovoltaics have not functioned well in this area where the monsoon season/clouds last more than 3 months; the general area has been mapped by the Indian Government to have high wind power potential)
  • Developing socially and culturally-appropriate designs that also met performance, cost and environmental criteria through collaboration between US team and the villagers.
  • Evaluate proof-of-concept principles for an off-grid zeolite adsorption refrigerator, and, for low-cost intelligent battery charging systems.

Results from Phase I Project Activities yielded several successes:

  1. Our site visit provided unique opportunities for learning about villagers’ simple lifestyles, and their extremely democratic and participatory societal decision-making process.
  2. We have built upon our site assessment experience to formalize the concept of collaborative engineering design with communities and engineers in US and in India. We hope that the process of collaborative design is further refined and then disseminated in the sustainability community as an important outcome of our work.
  3. We applied innovative ideas for cost-effective design of two types of low-cost LED lighting systems, that consumed 1.5W and provided illumination comparable (800o less in diffused lighting) or superior (200% more in task-lighting) to 7W Compact Florescent lamps (CFLs). The initial cost estimates were $1 5-$20 (US) and approximately $10 (India), in equivalent monetary units. These costs and designs are being further refined in a collaborative-design workshop.
  4. We constructed innovative wind turbines of different types and materials suitable for various spatial scales of organization a village-scale horizontal Axis wind turbine (700W); a hamlet-scale (100W) Multifunctional Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT); and a home-scale VAWT and novel Universal Axis Helical Turbine (UAHT) capable of generating lOW and supporting home lighting by the LED designs. As a first step, we have tested these turbines by drive tests on trucks, recognizing that field testing over 6-9 months will provide more accurate estimates of the energy produced over a period of time in the field. Initial (First-prototype) Indian and US cost estimates have also been obtained, with the Indian costs being less than 40% of the US costs.
  5. We identified multiple criteria to enable the villagers to choose the most sustainable wind energy system design based on their preferences, spatial organization, as well as safety, performance, and life cycle cost (LCC) and life cycle environmental assessment (LCA) criteria. In the first application of its type, we will be applying environmental LCA to enable villagers to choose the energy system that best meets their needs in a sustainable manner for the specific scale of their organization.
  6. We have demonstrated proof-of-concept for a unique zeolite adsorption refrigerator, that does not require electricity — the initial costs are in excess of $500 for a small unit; the design is being refined.

Leverage of EPA funds: We have been successful in obtaining additional funds for this project from Western Union Foundation ($15,000) in support of humanitarian activities, and a Kalpana Chawla Student Scholarship Award from TiE-Rockies to support student travel. Partial funds from Western Union were applied as cost share in Phase 1; the remaining reserved for Phase 2

The impact of this P3 project on education was evaluated through student surveys which indicated that projects of this nature encourage creativity, multi-disciplinarity and hands-on learning, and provide cross-cultural learning and awareness of sustainability issues worldwide. Students from CSU will be joining the 10+ students from CU Denver in Phase 2 work, so that the use of P3 as an educational tool can further be explored in this synergistic multi-institution, cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary learning experience.


  • Effective participatory methods and a unique collaborative design framework were established to develop very small, sustainable energy system for a tribal village in India.
  • Innovative designs with LED lighting units and wind generators developed in the lab showed potential for success, and significant future cost reductions accounting for lower material costs in India as well as the benefits of mass production (initial first prototype costs were generated in Phase 1).
  • To enable the villagers to choose the optimum home-lighting and energy supply system through wind resources, further field trials are required — both to evaluate technology performance in site-specific field conditions at the three different scales, as well to obtain the preferences and ensure ownership of the villagers in these technologies. These are addressed in Phase 2.
  • The project was found to have a high impact on student education.

Quantitatively, more than 1000 people are expected to be immediately impacted by this project, with transfer of methods to surrounding villages with upto 1 million persons displaced by an ongoing mega dam project. Measurable improvements in people’s well-being/prosperity and women’s respiratory health, particularly, are expected as kerosene lamps are replaced by LEDs. Energy availability for commerce activities like grain grinding may also have economic impact. These changes may also adversely impact the villagers’ lifestyle and must only be implemented with full participation of the community. The impact on the planet is primarily in quantifying the degree to which renewable wind resources are harnessed in the region, versus fossil fuels/kerosene use. Finally, although this project is being implemented in a developing/transition nation, it has revealed important concepts relevant for sustainable development in developed/industrialized nations.

Outreach to the Developed World: Our team felt the community participatory process we observed in the tribal village was a model that would well be disseminated and used in Western developed nations where not enough debate occurs on the role of technology on people (Pacey 1983). The philosophy of the villagers in terms of seeking to meet basic needs, but not much beyond, is also a beacon for sustainable development. We have begun some of this outreach by presenting our project at local area high schools. In addition, as our campus facilities office assisted us in testing various wind systems on trucks, a campus commitment to use renewables has emerged and solidified as a direct impact of this project locally in the US.

Proposed Phase 2 Objectives and Strategies:

Based on the above results from Phase 1, Phase 2 activities will consist of:

  • Field trials demonstrating and evaluating the performance of the energy demand-supply-storage system at three different scales: home-scale, hamlet-scale and village-scale, enabling environmental LCA to be incorporated into the choice of the most sustainable energy system suited for the village. Limited alpha field-testing of individual system components in the villages, followed by design review and systems integration pilot test in the US, and then a beta system test in the field is proposed as the strategy.
  • Very focused lab studies and field tests will be performed on other important system components that can have high impact on the efficiency of the integrated energy system:
      1. Energy recovery from cooking: Thermoelectricity generation (lOW) from waste heat released from simple cookstoves found in villages, and, incorporation of the UAHT — Helical turbines from Phase 1 atop of stove chimneys to capture the waste energy.
      2. Benign and battery-free energy storage: Expanding the concept of the commercialized Baylis Generator for mechanical energy storage from home-scale turbines, and, alpha testing of energy storage as biogas and/or hydrogen with subsequent combustion in 2-stroke engines.
      3. Refrigeration options (small community refrigerator): Further exploring cost reductions in the low-cost zeolite refrigerator studied in Phase 1. as well as capitalizing on the yet unexplored benefits of systems integration. e.g., pooling thermoelectricity from many household stoves

      We are partnering with Colorado State University (CSU) for Phase 2 activities. P1 Bryan Willson and his students at CSU bring to this work their results from prior and ongoing energy projects.

      Value-of the Phase 2 work: The value of Phase 2 activities lie in rigorous field-scale testing and integration of various village energy system components to achieve sustainability. It is emphasized that the components to he tested in Phase 2 have already undergone design evaluations in the lab. Particularly the thermoelectricity and hydrogen storage ideas are just being alpha-tested in other countries, e.g., Brazil and Nepal, by PT Willson’s team. P1 Willson also has more than 14 years of experience at CSU researching 2-stroke engine operations with conventional as well as alternative fuels such as methane and hydrogen. The other components, e.g., LED lamps and wind turbines and refrigerator are being tested in Phase 1 work at CU Denver. Application in the Indian context, system integration and field evaluation at the small village/hamlet/home scale are the powerful contributions of Phase 2 work.

      Anticipated Results: Overall, ours is a unique international sustainable development project with important results already obtained and expected to be obtained in the following areas:

      • People & participation in collaborative design across cultures;
      • Innovative design of existing LED & wind generator designs with adaptation to local materials;
      • Pilot tests of high impact technologies pertaining to benign energy storage and waste energy recovery, and, finally
      • The benefits of energy systems integration, and application of environmental LCA with multiple criteria to aid in selection of rural energy system design.

      Quantitative results are anticipated from the alpha and beta field tests that will provide translatable data and methodologies for other rural energy projects.

      Supplemental Keywords:

      Sustainability, small-scale rural energy, wind power, micro wind power, LEDs, participatory planning, LCA, LCC, benign energy storage, India,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Ecology and Ecosystems, International, Environmental Engineering, energy storage options, energy conservation, sustainable development, waste minimization, environmental sustainability, India, conservation, energy efficiency, energy technology, engineering, solar energy, solar zeolite refrigeration, alternative energy source, resource recovery, wind energy, renewable resource

      Relevant Websites: Exit Exit Exit Exit Exit Exit

      Phase 2 Abstract

      P3 Phase II:

      Sustainable Energy Systems Design for a Tribal Village in India  | Final Report