It’s no secret that many third world countries struggle to produce and provide, what we consider, basic necessities for its inhabitants. Many of the things we take for granted in developed countries: access to clean water, (mostly) reliable electricity, technology etc. are not easily accessible and often come at a premium. However, solar technology is now being utilized by many nonprofits to enable impoverished communities around the world.
Enablement through electricity does not imply that a PV system is simply installed and suddenly a whole village has light. One company, SELF, used loans from development agencies to buy single-family photovoltaic systems in bulk which were often enough for an entire village. (This further goes to show Americans’ severe excess in electric usage.) Each participating household would pay a 20% down-payment and pay off the remaining balance (usually around $300) over the next few years. As the program evolved, “The buyers’ payments were pooled in a local revolving loan fund from which their neighbors could borrow to buy their own solar power gear.” In fact, the company was able to establish dealerships in which local residents could be trained as solar installers. This allowed the communities to remedy any issues that may arise with the system, without return visits from the organization; thus reducing overall costs for both the residents and organizations.
The impact of the solar electric systems in these developing villages went far beyond improved living conditions. Access to electricity increased agricultural efficiency and allowed many of the women who worked from the home to develop their own businesses. The Asian Development Bank conducted a study which illustrated the clear benefits electricity provides by comparing rural homes in India with and without access.
- Derive proportionately more income
- Experience less smoke-induced health issues
- Take a fewer number of sick days from work
- Provide a better educational environment for children
Keep in mind, this study was conducted in villages that used traditional electricity rather than a photovoltaic system. Using a source of renewable energy allows the communities to remain self-sufficient without volatile subsidies from the government. This way they avoid the risk of being unable to afford electricity when energy prices increase. Many areas, especially in Africa, are so remote that the cost of transporting energy from the power plants makes it impossible. Solar energy continues to prove its economic benefits, even for impoverished communities.
Many developing countries have less than reliable sources of electricity. Power goes out for days at a time even metropolitan and large cities. While some have grown accustomed to living without electricity, hospitals, schools and other government agencies often find themselves in dire situations when the power is out. It interrupts children’s education for days at a time and prohibits a majority of hospital function, leaving patients at the mercy of the power plants. One student from the University of Pennsylvania saw the great benefit of implementing off-grid solar projects for hospitals in Gambia. She founded Power Up Gambia which provides solar electricity to health care facilities throughout Gambia. Within the first year, the hospital was able to care and treat over double the amount of patients.
While solar energy often gets the reputation of being too expensive, lacking efficiency, etc., it’s clearly a sound economic choice that can cross socio-economic lines.