Quest for Energy encourages us to think about our energy consumption and way of life to get closer to achieving zero environmental impact. For eons, the residents of this precious and isolated region have survived in the dark, lit by smelly and dim kerosene lamps. They even resort to burning wood to cook. 1.3 Billion people currently live like this around the world.
The people of the Sunderbans live less than hundred miles away from Kolkata, India, residing in the largest wetland in the world adjacent to one of the most populated urban areas of the world. The Sundarbans is a World Heritage site that boasts of about two hundred-fifty wild, white Bengal tigers. In this region, only fifty-two of the hundred-two islands are human-inhabited. These islanders have witnessed massive flooding and realize their islands will be under water because of rising sea levels from climate change. Two islands recently disappeared. The UN reports that 75% of the landmass will be under water due to climate change. Four million islanders risk losing everything, their homes, farmland, animal stock, and their lives.
In the 1990s, the West Bengal government commissioned the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency to electrify its off-grid population without contributing to the degradation of the tender wetland ecosystem. Low cost coal is not an option.
The residents voted to acquire clean energy. Now, three of the fifty-two occupied islands have electricity from a hybrid mini-grid power plant that uses wood to make a biogas, without producing climate-changing emissions. Replenishment of used wood through replantation of new trees makes this process sustainable. But, only about six hundred homes enjoy an electrical connection. How about the other forty-nine islands?
These islanders power their CFL bulbs, fans, television sets, DVD players, cell phones, computers and other appliances from large renewable charged batteries.
Solar panels purchased from local solar shops can be seen on rooftops and straw huts. A local hospital's solar panels has permitted emergency operations using simple lights and modern vital-sign machines and cured illnesses by administering vaccines kept in cold storage.
For cooking - burning firewood and kerosene, caused burns and even deaths and smoke inhalation problems. Now, manure pits supply ample natural cooking gas from fermented cow manure for a safe and fast cooking experience. It produces zero emissions.
Many films are made about solar use and renewable energy. Why this one? This film is not to educate us about what we can do in the developed world. The film is made to make us aware of what 1.3 billion off-grid people in the rest of the world can do to enter the 21st century in a sustainable way while producing no carbon-footprint.
What is the meaning of the title?
The quest for energy is the search for a higher standard of living by the impoverished and simple villagers and farmers of the Sundarbans region. The region is wedged between India and Bangladesh. Their journey in 2012 is the path we did not take in the Industrial Age, when the rest of the developed world burned coal and fossil fuels for energy. Their quest is also for clean energy to maintain their most precious resource, their environment.
"Living and Shooting Off-Grid"
Shooting in the Sundarbans, India, was not easy. The 102F temperature and 99% humidity bear down on the skin with a ton of weight. During rainy season, I slipped on the wet clay shore and fell onto the video camera while trying to board the boat. The shooting process produced zero carbon emissions because even battery charging and transporting video files onto hard drives was powered by the local hybrid mini-grid power plant.
The film budget was under $8,000 over a course of three years and three trips to the location. Partial funding was from PSC-CUNY Research Grant, a Leonard & Tow Travel Grant, personal funds and support from co-producer colleagues like Micha Tomkiewicz and Ryoya Terao. Other CUNY faculty and students who have significantly contributed to this project are Associate Professor Erik Larson, Chin Sheng "William" Hsieh, and Linda Brieda.