The benefits of solar energy tend come in the medium to long term: it saves money on fuel bills, reduces our dependency on fossil fuels, reduces our carbon footprint and lessens the impact of climate change. These are all very worthy reasons to embrace solar technology. However, in the right circumstances, solar energy can have a much more immediate impact on people's lives.
Much of the Third World has an abundance of sunshine but little or no access to affordable electricity. The common alternative, kerosene lamps, is costly, dangerous and not that effective. Here are some amazing examples where a number of charities are using solar technology changes lives – right now!
1 COCO and the Solar Lamp Project
Comrades for Children Overseas, COCO, has a project in Tanzania to provide youngsters with solar lamps. In this region electricity supply is unreliable; some power cuts can last up to 7 days. Also, many people cannot afford electricity. Light at night is generally provided by kerosene lamps with the drawbacks of expense, fire hazard, health problems and ecological damage. Students are provided with micro-loans. They pay around £ 1 a week to share and use a kerosene lamp. Their repayments for a solar lamp are around £ 1.25 per week. After 25 weeks they have repaid their loan. From then on, their lighting needs are met for free.
2 Solar Aid and SunnyMoney Enterprises
Solar Aid, and its subsidiary SunnyMoney, has the social goal of increasing access to solar lights and reducing reliance on kerosene lamps. It's solar lights provide reliable power that saves money, improves health and betters education chances by providing light to study without having to worry about the cost and dangers of using kerosene lamps. Their lamps also feature a mobile phone charger, a potential source of extra income.
3 d.light design
d.light manufactures and distributes four solar light products targeting the 2.6 billion people globally without access to reliable electricity. Their lights offer maintenance-free reliability and short payback periods due to energy cost being reduced by as much as 50%. Additionally, having access to light in the evenings can help increase productivity and hence household income. In conjunction with Christian Aid they targeted 4,400 households in three Indian states. A similar project has recently started in Africa.
4 Practical Action
Using simple technology, Practical Action works with some of the world's poorest people to find practical, tangible, innovative solutions to poverty. As an example of this, the Turkana people in Northern Kenya have to walk up to 10 km in relentless heat and sunshine to find water. Practical Action provides a brilliant solution to this problem – solar powered pumps which can provide enough water even in drought conditions. These pumps are so efficient they can provide up to 10,000 liters an hour from a well 100 meters deep.
5 IKEA Foundation
Millions of refugees are using large canvas tents which cost around $ 500 each and are designed to be used for 6 months but are often used for years. A disadvantage of these tents is that they can get too hot in the daytime and too cold at night. The IKEA Foundation has come up with an cost-effective alternative to the canvas tent, a prototype flat-pack refugee shelter. It is modular, lightweight, relatively easy to transport, and can be assembled without tools. It's roof is covered with a reflective sheet which keeps it cooler by day and warmer by night. It comes with its own solar panel which is used to provide power for a light and a USB port. These shelters are guaranteed for 3 years but are likely to last much longer than that. Although currently more expensive than the canvas tent their durability would, in time, make them much more cost effective.
6 The Maendeleo Foundation
Education in the 21st century relies heavily on Information Technology (IT) accessed mainly using laptops. In The Third World most students, already facing all sorts of barriers such as fees, uniforms and travel, have the added disadvantage of little or no electricity power supply. In Uganda, the Maendeleo Foundation is using solar power to bridge this technology gap. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is off-grid but there is no shortage of equatorial sunshine. The foundation has two sturdy jeeps. Each aims to visit five schools a week reaching, on average, 200 students per day. When a jeep arrives at a school, it provides an instant, outdoor pop-up classroom. There 'is a tent, chairs, desks and enough laptops for a class. The charge from the solar panels allows the pupils to have a computer lesson lasting several hours.
All these projects deserve to be supported. You can play your part, however large or small, in eradicating poverty for the most vulnerable people in the world. Visit the projects' websites to find further details of how you can get involved. Make a real difference.