Siddappa G Hullajogi, a farmer who never went to school, uses a self-designed and self-installed water mill to generate electricity that lights up his modest dwelling in Somapura village in Gadag district of Karnataka. The indigenous power-plant provides 150 watts to run his TV, radio, lights, and other smaller appliances. He had also conceptualized and installed a windmill that provided lesser power earlier.

The concept behind the watermill is very simple–it’s a giant vertical wheel with eight wooden arms, five feet each, joined at a central hub. At the end of each arm is a shallow plastic bucket (more like a tub), dangling loose. This setup is installed in a canal, and two pipes pour water into two buckets, causing them to move down and set the wheel in motion. The buckets empty themselves while going up, and the process continues, spinning the giant wheel, which is attached to another smaller wheel connected to a dynamo. The dynamo generates Direct Current(DC), and a converter converts it into Alternating Current(AC), which can then be used to power any appliance that runs on AC.

With a one-time investment of just Rs 5,000 Siddappa has eliminated the recurring cost of electricity bills and at the same time dependency on government authorities. (The government does not provide power connection to a house which is far away from the main road and stands alone in an isolated farm.)

The windmill he had constructed a couple years before the watermill is cruder in design. It has four wings made of metal sheets procured from the rooftops of his cowshed. The propeller so created is connected to three small wheels through a belt made from a bicycle’s rubber tyres. The main wheel of the power unit came from the tyre disc of his bullock cart. This disc is used to step up the rotation of the wings per minute. A dynamo attached to the wheels generates the electricity, which is then stored in a battery.

Though illiterate, Siddappa understands theories of dynamo technology without knowing the technical terms for processes and components involved. He also repairs his own tractors and has modified his one-row plough to a three-row one, providing three times the output. He has also attached a dynamo to his bicycle wheel that lets him charge batteries of mobile phones.

Here is a video where the man describes his contraptions, courtesy Colors Magazine. It is in Kannada but has English subtitles.

Water wheels or wind mills are not really novel innovations. Water wheels have been in use as early as 3rd century BC, in Perachora, Greece, spreading throughout Europe and rest of the world. Though the early applications of water wheels were mechanical process such as flour, lumber or textile production, or metal shaping (rolling, grinding or wire drawing), water wheels have also been used to generate electricity.

Siddappa may have only reinvented the (water) wheel, but he is driving a change here, by making himself self-sustainable, and working towards extending this to power the entire village, by creating a hydel power unit on a bigger canal through the village. Constructing low-cost sources of power would definitely help those living in the rural areas who do not have access to state-supplied electricity or is too expensive. Gram panchayats can and should promote these kind of implementations and stop looking at the higher authorities and getting bogged down by red-tapism. If many such Somapuras and many other Siddappas start doing these kinds of innovations, we may be able to solve the power problem much sooner.

[Image credit: 1, 2]