Namaste, EG fans, coming at you live from Chitwan. 58 hours, 4 airports, 3 cavity searches, 2 turtle doves and 1 devilishly rugged travel beard later, I made it, safe and gastrointestinally sound. Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted and brought up to speed by the lovely and super knowledgeable Noortje. Turns out the team has been crazy busy these past two weeks, making huge strides (a daring feat in this treacherous rainy-season mud) towards implementing Sita’s innovative business plan. The days have been long and full of sweaty field work, promising meetings with local bigwigs, and rib-sticking banana pancakes. Today, we did a literal and figurative market assessment of the solar and lighting technology available in Bharatpur, the capital city of Chitwan.

Spearheading the effort was our lead engineer, Srikanth, a Sustainable Energy Technology student at TU Delft, originally hailing from Chennai in Southern India. Aside from being a rising renewable tech rockstar, Srikanth is a serious movie buff, sports some seriously badass police-issue aviators, and is deadly serious about his oral hygiene (his 15 minute teeth brushing regimen is the stuff of legend ’round these parts). He’s also no stranger to the frustrating practice of “load shedding”­­: scheduled daily power cuts designed to ease overburdened grids. As a student in India, he experienced firsthand how much it sucks to be cramming for a big exam when your reading lamp suddenly craps out on you. One fateful night in the middle of finals, he was so incensed by the study-killing blackouts that he tracked down the mayor’s mobile number and proceeded to bombard him with angry texts and voicemails well into the wee hours. This act of concerned citizenship was not met with a corrective governmental response, but, rather, an early morning reprimand from the local police.

His experience is especially germane to our current project; the rural villages we are focused on are connected to the government-run energy grid, thereby rendering them ineligible for subsidies to buy solar energy products. They are then left, pun intended, to their own devices to deal with the infuriatingly insufficient capacity the grid provides, suffering through the never ending aggravation that is load shedding with no assistance whatsoever. The kicker is that load shedding happens when people need power the most, peak hours like 7-11pm and 7-10am, not to mention the additional random blackouts that reduce the community’s average to about 6 hours of reliable power per day. This means that diligent students have to wake up at 4am just to finish their homework and craftswomen are relegated to making their wares in the fleeting window of dwindling daylight after the long day’s work is done. What’s more, expensive lamps, dim candles, and dangerously makeshift kerosene lanterns that strongly resemble Molotov cocktails are the only options available to mothers preparing the family’s dinner over smokey open fires.

Having chewed on this raw deal with his own immaculate teeth, Srikanth takes it personally and is committed to designing solutions that will reduce the marginalization of rural energy users, first in Chitwan, and eventually worldwide.

In other news, today, Anya saw a rhino. Stay tuned, tomorrow Sita’s business plan is being finalized, so expect a detailed update on that coming soon. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@EmpowerGrid) for mupdates,twitpix, links, pithy one-liners, adorable stuff the local kittens are up to, and one extremely savage goat fight I was lucky enough to catch on tape.