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SolarAid Brings Solar Power to Rural Areas in Need

Credits: ©2009 Solar Aid

SolarAid is a non-profit that aims to enable the world's poorest people to have clean, renewable power using the sun. Right now, two billion people have no access to electricity. They rely on burning fuels such as kerosene and wood for light and heat, which is highly toxic and expensive. Having solar power improves people's health, income and education. That's because solar power can enable poor people to cook food, pump clean water, run fridges, light homes, schools and hospitals, farm more effectively, and much more. SolarAid carries out Do-It-Yourself solar projects - training local communities how to build small scale solar devices such as solar powered radios and lanterns - and installs small solar systems for community centers, medical clinics, schools and other such communal infrastructure. SA believes that solar power leads to better education, health, safety and income by allowing poor communities to cook, pump water, run fridges, store vaccines, light homes, schools, clinics and businesses, power computers and homes, farm more effectively, and much more.


Solar Aid Solar Lantern Girl

With the help of Solar Aid, locals in a dusty Mzuzu town are leading other communities in replacing around one and a half million kerosene lamps in Malawi with solar lanterns, where only 2 percent of the rural population are connected to the electricity grid. ©2009 Solar Aid

SA helps to combat climate change and global poverty simply by bringing clean, renewable power to the poorest people in the world. The organization focuses on sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest. The targets are mainly on the rural poor, who are the most impoverished and marginalized from energy networks, although it works with the urban poor if their access to the grid is limited or non-existent. Working through international NGOs and local partner organizations, SolarAid builds DIY solar and installations using a microbusiness approach that encourages beneficiaries to develop their own solar or solar-powered businesses and sustainable technologies.

Microsolar, a ground-breaking model
SolarAid’s microsolar approach is pioneering. It identifies entrepreneurs in developing countries, who are then trained in business planning, market research and solar skills. SA helps them set up their solar microbusinesses so that they can build and sell solar lanterns and solar chargers for radios and mobile phones. This came out of research that showed that the average household in a developing country spends between 10-20% of its income on kerosene for lighting, single use batteries for their radios, and charging their mobile phones. Plus kerosene smoke is toxic; the average kerosene lamp, used widely across the developing world, creates around a ton of carbon over seven years. Replacing these lamps with solar lanterns will lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions. Single use batteries are polluting, and mobile phone chargers need access to the electric grid, which most rural areas in developing countries do not have and probably will never have. SA’s solar entrepreneurs convert kerosene lamps into solar lanterns using light emitting diodes (LEDs, which are cheaper, robust and use little energy) and build solar chargers from local materials and imported solar glass. These solar products can then fulfill much of the average household's energy needs, leading to a substantial increase in their income because they no longer need to buy kerosene or batteries. The solar entrepreneurs make money, too - a win-win situation.

Macrosolar, power for communities
SA’s macrosolar work involves installing larger solar systems on schools, community centers and health clinics. Barely 2% of rural populations in most African countries have access to the grid, forcing them to rely on kerosene, candles, car batteries and firewood for fuel. Schools cannot teach in the evenings; community centers cannot offer services such as educational videos or vocational training; and health clinics cannot power basic medical equipment such as vaccine fridges. Yet a standard 300 watt system installed on the roof of a school, community centre or clinic can solve all these issues. In Uganda, for instance, SA isinstalling a solar system on the community office of the Katine Project, a program run by development charity AMREF and the Guardian newspaper and funded by Barclays bank. In Malawi, SA installed a 300 watt system on a community centre, the only place now with electricity for miles around. In South Africa, SA installed a solar system on an orphanage. And it is starting to install systems on hundreds of schools, community centers and health clinics in Tanzania and Zambia over the next four years.


Solar Aid (International)