Solar energy has the power to change lives. In developing countries around the world, solar panels are offering a way to provide off-grid villages with clean electricity to drastically improve the quality of life among their inhabitants. Light offers the ability to work, study, or even just perform everyday tasks at night, but in many of these locations, people burn kerosene, diesel, wood, candles, and dung just to be able to see a little. But all of these fuels have many drawbacks associated with them that include, but are not limited to: drain on financial resources, pollution inside the home, risk of fire and no home electrification. Going solar in your life won’t lead to the same quality of life changes, but it’s still something simple that offers many benefits like lower energy bills and a diminished carbon footprint. If you need inspiration to go solar in 2014, check out these countries that are installing solar and markedly improving the quality of life of their citizens.
Less than 900 miles from the U.S. border one can find themselves in the Central American nation of Guatemala. This ancient land, populated by many of the descendants of the Mayans, has close to 520,000 people who live without electricity, just about a fifth of the entire population. It’s a rugged country and many places lack paved roads, which get even trickier during periods of heavy rains and flooding, resulting in many regions are cut off from the electrical grid. Distributed solar generation works well here because it is much cheaper than the alternative of buying other fuels, which don’t only cost money, but time as well. Villagers may sometimes need to travel up to two hours each way to stock up on fuel and then bring it back to their home. Quetsol is a company that brings solar panels to villagers’ homes so they can power their homes cleanly from the Sun with a simple investment that pays dividends quickly.
For centuries and centuries, many of the inhabitants of Mongolia were nomadic herdsmen far removed from city life. Their failure to settle in one place also made it hard to bring power to rural villages because in fact, their homes were transient as well. But this all has begun to change as a program led by the World Bank has brought portable, small, solar panels to some 500,000 people, roughly 50% of Mongolia’s rural population. The World Bank claims that some of the benefits of this access to electricity include safer lighting and the ability to get weather reports as well as market prices in distant locations via television or mobile phones.
Kenya has a large population that remains without electricity, making it an ideal candidate for distributed solar. While some villages have seen individual families purchase solar panels for their homes to provide clean, safe electricity, some villages have gone a different route. Others have been selected to test out larger village-scale utility systems that will provide power, heat, and clean water to entire villages of up to 1,000 inhabitants. These systems, dubbed “microsols,” are expected to have a lifespan of 20 years, produce 50 megawatt-hours of electricity, 1,000 cubic meters of water and about 800 megawatt-hours of heat energy per year.
In the Arusha, Manyara, and Morogoro regions of Tanzania, Sunfunder recently gave a $10,000 loan to finance 450 units of solar lighting and mobile phone chargers. Approximately 1,800 individuals stand to benefit from the loan and 60,300 kg of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided as a result of harnessing the Sun’s power. A pitfall of living in isolated villages is the effort needed to procure energy; acquiring fuel for light at night is costly and often consumes 6-8% of a family’s income or 100-120 dollars per month. Additionally, using fossil fuels is hazardous to one’s health and home, so solar-powered lights have the potential to alleviate many of these dangers.
The nation of Fiji faces some different obstacles to electrification than some of these other examples previously mentioned. The nation is composed of many islands in the Pacific Ocean that make a having central grid with reliable electricity very difficult. As a result, many of the islanders either use diesel generators or forego having electricity entirely. However, this is beginning to change as Kyocera is partnering with the Fijian Department of Energy to bring power to 2,000 households that previously never had reliable access to power. Inhabitants of the village Nakorovou have expressed extreme gratitude and joy that their village was selected and it has given them great hope and pride that their future is now brighter.
Renewable solar energy has the power to improve lives around the world. These highlighted climate heroes are already doing it, what are you waiting for?