Sustainable Energy

Back to school: How solar is changing lives

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
How solar is changing lives

Education has long been seen as key to gaining new skills and, for decades now, one Indian organisation has been empowering women from rural communities across the world, teaching them how to set up solar installations.

Located in a village in the desert state of Rajasthan, many of the students at Barefoot College can barely read or write, with the school saying that it believes "strongly in empowering women as agents of sustainable change."

Clean, sustainable solar power is a crucial part of Barefoot College and courses include training women in setting up and maintaining solar lighting units and parabolic solar cookers.

Roberto Schmidt | AFP | Getty Images

The courses are designed to be thorough. The solar lighting course, for example, is for grandmothers and lasts six months on campus in the village of Tilonia, Rajasthan.

After completing the course, the women return to their villages equipped with skills to electrify homes. According to Barefoot, since 2008 over 40,000 homes in more than 1,000 villages have been lit up.

"Women have for a long time been the untapped potential in the developing world and the piece of the equation that nobody was counting on, especially the women 35 to 50 years of age," Barefoot's Meagan Fallone told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"These are women deeply rooted in their communities who have tremendous influence and have knowledge about how their communities work and how best to address issues that are happening," Fallone added.

Solar power is becoming increasingly important to India's energy mix. In June 2015, the Indian government formally announced its plan to have 100 gigawatts of solar power installed by 2022.

Magan Kanwar was a student at the college and is now a solar engineer, training others. Kanwar found the learning curve steep. "We were very afraid, I would even get headaches… because I was so worried if I'd be able to understand the technology or not," she said.

"Yet I persisted. That's how we learnt. Now, we can completely fix a solar power system for a home, for a family," she added.

Today, the breadth and reach of the college is global. "We are in 72 countries and we have done now more than sixteen hundred villages on this solar electrification model," Fallone said.

"The women -- solar engineers of the world -- are bringing light to more than six hundred thousand people today, and that is extraordinary," she added.