Goodbye, Kerosene: How Solar Could Transform Africa
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Africa is in the midst of a technological revolution, and it’s increasingly solar powered.
As a fascinating piece in The Economist explained recently, 1.2 billion of the world’s population are still without access to electricity. Even more — 2.5 billion — have the benefit of unreliable and intermittent power supplies. And a huge number of those people live in Africa. In the absence of reliable electricity, many families resort to kerosene lanterns. And those lanterns create unhealthy fumes, they cast inadequate light, they cost a relative fortune to run, and all too often they cause burns or fires that claim lives.
But the days of the kerosene lantern are numbered.
In fact, U.K.-based charity Solar Aid — which was founded by (and receives 5 percent of the profit of) solar developer Solarcentury — has set itself the ambitious target of essentially eradicating the kerosene lantern from Africa by the end of the decade. It’s doing its part to achieve that goal by promoting a micro-entrepreneurship model in communities across the continent. Here’s how it works:
Solar Aid, and the social enterprise it set up called SunnyMoney, have already made significant progress toward its 2020 goal. In fact, the organization has distributed more than 1.7 million solar lanterns, reaching an estimated 10 million people with the benefits of solar power. (The charity estimates that families that go solar save $70 a year on lighting costs compared to kerosene.)
The poverty alleviation and public health angle is just one part of what makes Solar Aid attractive to donors. At a time when concern about climate change is rising, solar lanterns offer the tantalizing opportunity to both promote economic development and slash carbon emissions in the process. As Solar Aid chief fundraiser Richard Turner emphasized in an interview with Cleantechnica recently, each solar lantern can replace 0.5 tons of CO2 in its lifetime. U.S.-based company Sunfunder, which specializes in funding solar in emerging markets, has estimated that kerosene lamps alone are responsible for 3 percent of global black carbon emissions. (U.S. donations can be made via the Honnold Foundation SolarAid page.)