Alternative energy is not all about technology, cost, access and the users’ technical capacity. Binsar, in Kumaon, illustrates this well.
The Kumaon Vikas Mandal Nigam (KMVN), where I stayed, provided electricity for two hours every evening, via a generator. Hot water, about one bucket per room, was heated using wood. For all other times, candles and matches were provided. Not that the KVMN didn’t have solar panels — there were several, but they did not work.. The batteries were kaput and nobody had bothered to repair them.
Just 3km away, in village Gonap, comprising 7 semi-literate households, things worked differently. The homestay where I lived provided a room lit with electricity through a solar lamp, and my cellphone was solar-charged, too. Unlike Binsar, they did not have the luxury of easy access to parts or mechanics. In fact, the closest secondary school was over 9km away. Many women had never left the village except for medical emergencies. Despite this semi-isolation, the villagers had figured out how to keep their solar panels running. Not only that, a young man said he hoped to enable all seven homes, including his own, to run on smokeless chulahs (earthen stoves), which would mean better health for the women and less wood cut. A couple of the women were thrilled by the idea.
So, perhaps attitude, more than education, is the key to how non-conventional energy, especially forms that are decentralised and require maintenance, will be valued and embraced.