In Central India, far from the grid of power lines, telephone poles and power transformers an electrical experiment has been taking place. For the last year, the village of Meerwada has been learning to live with solar energy. Located some 90 minutes from the nearest city by way of a rocky 4×4 dirt road, this small town sits on the cutting edge of a modern-day industrial revolution.
In December 2011, sixty-three homes surrounding Meerwada’s community center were connected to a small solar-panel microgrid that was established by the California-based company SunEdison. The pilot program (later officially named The Eradication of Darkness Plan), selected Meerwada to determine whether small rural villages, such as those found in India’s Guna District, could actually benefit from solar energy. Equally important says Dawn Brister, who serves as SunEdison’s senior manager of marketing communications, was whether the residents would be comfortable with this new change, and what they personally would want to see from the project.
(The) mistake we feel a lot of companies have made when they are trying to take electricity in (to communities) is they don’t take into account how the residents are going to receive it.”
“So we wanted to make sure that the villagers were receptive to it and understood what it could do for them.”
After hearing what the villagers thought of the idea, the engineers then developed a plan that would address the needs of the citizens. The community members were consulted throughout the process to ensure the project would meet their needs. For example, the community center received lighting in and outside the building to allow for comfortable settings for meetings; the privately owned water pump was converted to electrical power from diesel, and a system was set up for other community members to pay for use of the well (rather than walking two miles a day for water); and outside lighting was implemented in areas to allow residents to walk lighted paths and to safely manage livestock after dark.