When it comes to jumpstarting renewable energy programs in developing nations, much of the focus is on how local governments can drum up the necessary financial and political will to create a sustainable program that attracts outside investors and has room to grow.
Unfortunately, however, many developing nations that could benefit the most from establishing a clean energy program are riddled with political gridlock and economic woes. While we should hope these countries will navigate their political and economic troubles to create long-term renewable energy programs in the future, that doesn’t mean we have to wait around to begin implementing new clean energy technologies in the developing world.
In fact, some of the organizations doing the most for the renewable energy cause in developing nations happen to be individually and corporate-funded nonprofits that are making a significant impact on rural communities in terms of health care, education, and community enterprise.
In this post, I take a look at three organizations that are changing the lives of people in communities all over the world with solar.
The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is assisting the 1.5 billion people who live in energy poverty by providing solar energy applications for irrigation, healthcare, and online learning.
SELF, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit that is fully funded by individual and corporate donations and has completed solar projects in more than 20 countries since 1990. The organization takes an integrated approach to community empowerment using solar energy to provide numerous benefits in education, health, food and water security, and enterprise.
In the Narok South District of Kenya, SELF partnered with Free the Children (FTC), a nonprofit working to free children from poverty, to provide energy for the Kisaruni Girls Secondary School, which FTC created to bring together young women from different tribes in a safe, educational environment.
Image Credit: www.self.org
The solar array is an 8.4 kW solar-diesel hybrid system that supplies electricity for lights in eight classrooms, ten laptops, a printer, a color television, a VCR, and a radio cassette player. The solar-diesel system also supplies energy to the nearby Baraka Health Center, which has the first and only ultrasound machine used to provide prenatal care to the community, as well as a vaccine refrigerator, defibrillator, microscope, centrifuge, examination lights and computers—all powered with SELF’s solar-diesel installation.
The importance of SELF’s work cannot be understated. The solar system in Narok alone has provided impoverished and at-risk children with functional classrooms and technology to help foster a foundation for understanding. It also supply a health center that is critical for the people living in Kenya, giving them access to medical technology that they did not have access to previously.
And this is just one example of the kinds of projects SELF has completed or is currently working on in developing nations.
Solar in a Suitcase
WE CARE solar, another nonprofit funded by individual and corporate donations, has designed a product that brings electricity to those who need it most in developing nations in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The organization develops Solar Suitcases, which are portable, cost-effective power units that generate electricity for critical lighting, mobile communication devices, and medical devices.
Image Credit: www.wecaresolar.org
Solar Suitcases come with either 40 or 80 watts of solar panels that are used to power appliances ranging from LED medical lighting and a battery charger to a universal cell phone charger. Because access to electricity is scarce in many parts of the developing world, and because so many people living in rural communities rely on their cellphones to get information, WE CARE solar is providing a critical power source that, when used for emergency care, reduces maternal and infant morbidity and mortality and improves the quality of care.
WE CARE Solar’s Solar Suitcases are often used by medical relief teams and off-grid medical clinicsthat did not previously have access to surgical lighting and mobile communication devices.
The suitcases contain a 140 amp-hour sealed lead-acid battery that needs to be replaced every two years, but other than that, they require very little maintenance, which makes them suitable for rural communities in developing nations.
One drawback to the Solar Suitcase is that each unit is pretty expensive. They cost over $1,400 each, and as the main source of funding for the organization comes from individual donations, this could limit the application of a large number of suitcases to different communities in need.
Lighting a Path for Education
In an effort to confront the daunting statistic that 70 percent of India’s 120 million school-going children still depend on oil lamps to studying in the dark, One Child One Light has developed a solar powered LED study light for children to use.
Image Credit: www.onechildonelight.org
Each study light is attached to a 1.5 watt solar panel and takes about two and a half hours to charge. The lights are important for children living in rural areas of developing nations because these children previously used kerosene lamps to study at night. Kerosene lamps cause numerous environmental hazards, including respiratory problems for children due to the toxic fumes these lamps emit.
Poor access to education is one of the largest reasons children in developing nations cannot break free from poverty. Because kerosene lamps are so dangerous, they can cause fires that burn down homes too, the solar powered study lights are a critical application of solar power in developing nations.
Founded in 2007 by Dr. Ranganayakulu Bodavala, a Harvard alumnus and the Founder President ofTHRIVE, an NGO working for the benefits of rural and tribal communities in home lighting, education, and health, One Child One Light has undertaken the ambitious goal to, as the organization’s name suggests, make sure every underprivileged child has access to a safe, clean, and low-cost study light.
Image Credit: www.self.org
All three of these organizations are making important contributions to the developing world through solar energy, and although their products range in size from providing power for an entire school to powering single study lights, each organization is helping improve the social and environmental conditions of people living in developing nations, where lack of access to education and medical care are critical drivers of a low Human Development Index (HDI).
So, while many of those who support a clean energy future will continue to hope that local governments in developing nations will seriously pursue renewable energy programs, these three organizations are confronting the energy challenges of the 21st century head on. Make no mistake, the results of their efforts are improving the lives of millions of people living in poverty worldwide.
Aven Satre-Meloy graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in political science and environmental studies. He joined Mosaic last summer as a Communications Fellow and has been part of the blog team ever since, writing about clean energy and designing many of the infographics on Mosaic’s blog. Aven is currently teaching English in Turkey, which has a rapidly growing renewable energy program. A Montana native, Aven is especially interested in how renewable energy can create sustainable growth in the developing world.