Rural areas in India, like other developing areas of the world, often struggle to meet the energy needs of the local population. An engineering team being mobilized by Virginia Tech hopes to help resolve this issue in the state of Tamil Nadu in southeast India through the use of renewable energy.
The new research center, called the VT, India Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science Innovation Center, was established in partnership with with private-sector partner MARG Swarnabhoomi. It aims to help refine and adapt windmills and solar panels for use in rural Indian areas, according to the university.
The center’s location, set inside MARG Swarnabhoomi’s Amrita Research Park, is influenced by ocean breezes that “are conducive to windmill research.” The windmills are being designed to work in areas of low and variable wind speed, while the solar panels are being designed to work in low-light conditions.
Virginia Tech noted the windmills, which currently cost less than $1,000 to produce, use a unique blade developed at the college that reportedly achieves greater than normal aerodynamic performance.
“The goal is to improve life for 400 million Indians not connected to the grid,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for international affairs, in a statement. “There are still some refinements to be made on this amazing technology developed at Virginia Tech. We’re aiming for the point where the solar panels and small windmills can be mass produced, tested in India’s rural communities, and then be deployed to create low-cost, renewable energy worldwide.”
As the 6,000 square foot lab space prepares to open later this fall, graduate students assigned to the center will be drawn from Virginia Tech’s partner institutions in India initially. Virginia Tech is underwriting staff and operations with an initial outlay of $350,000, and MARG Swarnabhoomi has committed $1.8 million for laboratory build-out as well.
“Our push for sustainable energy technology reflects our understanding of the interconnectedness of developed and developing countries,” noted Roop Mahajan, director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech. “With more than a billion people worldwide living in rural communities in extreme poverty, how energy production proceeds will have global impact.”