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High tech and low energy team up to light Nepal

The almostEverest trekkers have discovered that a project is underway to use advanced LED technology to light two villages near Kathmandu.


GORAK SHEP, NEPAL

Up and down the Khumbu region of Nepal in the spring and fall, Himalayan expeditions tote fancy, high-tech gear. Satellite phones and laptops, solar panels, and gel cell batteries let people call or e-mail dispatches back home, complete with photos and sometimes live video.

Some high-tech efforts seem like so much expedition-marketing flash, while others give real educational benefits to schools from Chicago to Kentucky, and via the Web, to anywhere there's an ISP. But does any of this fancy technology benefit Nepal?

Finally, for part of one expedition, the answer is yes. One man on the engineering faculty at the University of Calgary, Canada, intends to use advanced LED technology to light two villages to the southwest of Kathmandu. He calls it the Nepal Light Project, and he's using the Web and the Everest 2000 expedition to get the word out on it.

The plan is to use new, super-bright, white-light emitting diodes (WLEDs) that run on very low power. David Irvine-Halliday discovered the LEDs, manufactured by Nichea [CQ], a Japanese firm, when doing routine research on the Web. He asked for some samples, and the results were astounding. Not only were the LEDs virtually indestructible when compared to light bulbs, but they also put out a bright cone of light and ran on currents measured in the milliamps and consumed milliwatts. This meant small, rechargeable batteries could power them.

"Using tiny, light-emitting diodes powered by rechargeable batteries, it is possible to light a house and make it possible for reading," said Irvine-Halliday. This lighting solution offers benefits to people in Nepal. "We're talking about really, really poor people. The only form of lighting they have, generally speaking, is [kerosene] lamps, which is terrible, as they give off a lot of fumes," said Irvine-Halliday. The engineering professor pointed out that 80 to 90 percent of Nepal's people would not be connected to the national power grid in the foreseeable future.

But his work doesn't stop with LEDs and batteries. At Calgary's engineering lab, he's developing little pedal generators that enable one person to charge a battery in about twenty minutes. He is also developing what the lab is calling pico power wind turbines. At 12 to 15 inches in diameter, they are much smaller than conventional wind generators. And as astounding as all that seems, "we're even working on pico hydro—very small, fist-sized generating units," said Irvine-Halliday.

More information about Irvine-Halliday's passion can be found on the cbc.ca Web site. Look for the Everest 2000 link and follow it to the Nepal Light Project link. As part of the Everest 2000 expedition Web site, kids from grades K-12 can follow "almost any area" that has been explored at the university level. Irvine-Halliday hopes that the kids, especially in the upper grades, will have "better ideas than we've had."
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Mike Jackman is an editor in chief of TechProGuild, an editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. Together with his co-editor in chief David Bard, he is traveling to Nepal to report on high-altitude technology and to climb 20,285-foot Imja Tse. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike’s an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.

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