Reliable access to energy, in particular electricity, often reduces the time people spend on everyday tasks. This means that they can engage in other activities such as education, employment and entertainment, thereby improving their quality of life. Energy is an essential requirement for human development and the eradication of poverty. However, most of our energy comes from finite fossil fuels and there is a significant global challenge to balance our energy demands against the associated environmental impacts.

Energy is used for many activities that we take for granted including cooking, lighting, heating, cooling and powering appliances like washing machines. It is also important in driving industrial and economic activities. For example, a clothes manufacturer can produce more clothes with electrically powered machines than hand-stitches alone. It comes from multiple sources such as fossil fuels and renewable sources which harness the power of wind, water and the sun.

In rural Tamil Nadu, many households are connected to the electricity grid and, dependant on their economic status, are offered free or heavily subsidised electricity usage which they use for lighting, fans, phone charging and some electrical appliances such as TVs and spice grinders. However, power cuts are frequent due to high demand and access to a broader range of electrical appliances is not possible as most electrical appliances have been developed for the western market and are either not very efficient or not designed for the smaller electricity demands of the rural poor. For cooking, the majority of people in India, Tamil Nadu included, use biomass. In Tamil Nadu this tends to be wood collected for free from surrounding woodland or coconut husks. Cookstoves are traditionally made out of mud and cow dung but are typically inefficient resulting in a high consumption of fuel and large production of smoke which has a negative impact on health. Can you propose any ideas to improve the situation?

For more information including details of the current situation and existing initiatives: go to Engineering For People Design Challenge: ENERGY
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  1. Appropriate electrical appliances

    Whilst most rural households in Tamil Nadu are connected to the electricity grid and their consumption is heavily subsidised, electricity usage is limited to a few appliances such as lights, fans, phone chargers, spice grinders and TVs. There is an opportunity for more energy efficient electrical appliances to be developed that are designed specifically for the needs of this large market as those developed for the ‘Western market’ are typically too expensive and/or energy intensive to be suitable. There is also the issue of grid reliability. Can you develop appliances that are better suited to this context and potentially work with off-grid electricity provision?

  2. Alternative fuel or more efficient use of existing fuel

    The vast majority of cooking in Tamil Nadu is based on wood fuel. Whilst this resource is currently readily available for free, there is a risk it encourages deforestation in the longer term. Can you identify alternative fuel sources or further increase the efficiency with which this valuable resource can be used?

  3. Human waste use for benefit of the community

    The use of anaerobic digesters has the potential to address the human waste issue and provide a valuable energy source, however, it is taboo to use the biogas for cooking. Can you propose alternatives that can make use of this energy source for the benefit of the community?