SunFarmer in Nepal
On April 25, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, followed by intense aftershocks that culminated in a 7.3 magnitude earthquake on May 12. Over 8,500 people were killed, and at least 22,000 more were injured. According to Nepal’s government, 750,000 buildings were damaged and an estimated 1.5 million people are now homeless. Relief organizations and the government are rushing to provide shelter before the monsoon season begins next month.
Nepal had low levels of energy access (43.6% of the population) before the earthquake, and has now suffered a significant setback. Nepal’s electric grid is powered almost entirely by hydro. Damage to hydroelectric infrastructure caused a loss of about 150MW, or approximately one fifth of the grid’s total capacity. While the state-run Nepal Energy Authority is working quickly to repair the damage, many villages and towns are still without power. Numerous roads were also wiped out in Nepal’s mountainous terrain, further complicating attempts to rebuild the transmission lines.
Grid power was sporadic to begin with, and nearly nonexistent during the dry season due to seasonal fluctuations in rivers. As a result, many rural businesses, health clinics, and schools rely on diesel generators. But fuel deliveries are no longer getting through, leaving people with no way to charge cell phones or light their shelters in the dark - and unable to properly care for sick and injured community members.
In recent years, many communities have acquired solar PV systems due to the poor quality and unreliability of grid power. The Nepali government reports that 75 PV systems at rural schools and health clinics were significantly damaged or destroyed, along with 84,000 solar home systems.
SunFarmer is a social enterprise co-founded by Canadian solar industry veteran Jason Gray and his former SunEdison colleague, Andy Moon. They have been active in Nepal for nearly two years, where they provide “rent-to-own” financing and long-term monitoring and maintenance for institutional solar projects including health facilities, schools, and farms. Last summer, ELSE fundraised to support SunFarmer’s installation at the Siddheswhor Clinic in Nepal’s Achham District in the far west of the country. Siddheswhor provides care for a patient population of 4,121 a year. With the solar installation, they are now able to power lights, a suction machine, an autoclave, and communication equipment to connect with the regional hospital. Fortunately, Siddeswhor is located far from the epicenter of the earthquake and therefore was not affected.
But SunFarmer reports that the need in Kathmandu and surrounding districts is tremendous. With an experienced engineering team on the ground, SunFarmer is responding by serving the immediate energy needs of those impacted, and preparing to support long-term reconstruction with an aim to “Build Back Better” – with more resilient structures that better serve people’s needs by delivering reliable and affordable electricity.
In the wake of the disaster, the government designated each rural district to a specific relief NGO in order to coordinate efforts. SunFarmer to channels donations through these lead NGOs. They are currently distributing 1300 d.light solar lanterns to people displaced by the earthquakes, and are awaiting the arrival of 80 community charging stations (40W-200W) overland from India, thanks to donations from SunEdison, Simpa Networks, and Northland Power.
In the long-term, SunFarmer plans to play a significant role in the rebuilding of Nepal’s healthcare infrastructure. 600 health clinics were destroyed in the earthquake, and as they rebuild, they will need electricity in order to provide modern medical care.
Through May 25, 2015, The Canadian government will match – dollar for dollar – all donations from Canadian individuals to the relief efforts in Nepal. Donations to SunFarmer’s Nepal Relief and Recovery Fund are eligible for this government match thanks to SunFarmer’s partnership with Solar Energy Society of Canada, Inc (SESCI). Additionally, thanks to SunFarmer’s corporate sponsors, who are also matching donations, the impact of gifts to this fund are tripled. Read more about their work at www.sunfarmer.org.