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In 2010, with the help of the University of Colorado and Dine CARE, Elephant Energy has been able to expand its programs to the Navajo Nation. Findings indicate that over three quarters of all people in the United States living without electricity--over 18,000 households--are located in the Navajo Nation. These families depend on kerosene, propane, and firewood for light and heat, spending anywhere from 20-40 dollars per month on these off-grid alternatives that are dangerous, unhealthy, and insufficient.
There are many reasons Navajo residents lack access to electricity, including cost geographic isolation, and legal/political issues. 42.9 percent of Navajo residents live below the poverty line, making them unable to afford the $27,000 dollar cost to extend a power line a single mile, and even then, afford the electricity bills. Navajo Nation covers 26,000 square miles, with a population of 180,462 people widely spread out over the large area. This makes it hard for families to split the cost of extending power lines, as each extension would reach only a few extra people. The Tribal Government and NTUA have made many promises to extend the grid to all the nation's residents, but many have lost hope.
Solar technologies have many benefits. The cost of Eagle Energy lights ranges from $25 to $35, not much more expensive than a kerosene lantern, and with no additional monthly fees. An article in the International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health ran tests, finding that users of kerosene lanterns were exposed to particulate matter concentrations significantly greater than in ambient air, causing long term health risks. They also stated that the best alternative would be switching to the use of LED lighting. Kerosene lanterns not only cause health risks, they produce CO2, and thus risk the environment. If each of the off-grid households in the Navajo Nation use kerosene lanterns for four hours per night, they could produce over 1.8 million kilograms of CO2 per year. Eagle Energy lamps allow light for children to do homework and other household chores to be done at night, including cooking/eating, washing, walking, using toilets, socializing, attending to fields, and other work.
The project was implemented in three steps. First, Eagle energy located four Navajo communities with the most off-grid households, Thoreau Chapter, Baca Chapter, Pindale Chapter, and Mariano Lake Chapter. Next, they distributed 100 solar lights amongst various volunteer households. After using the lights for a few months, the families were surveyed about their use of the lights. These surveys showed a number of things, including reports that volunteer families had saved a significant amount of money per month with the lights. All lights worked properly throughout the pilot project, and all volunteers said they would consider buying their own Eagle Energy light.
Eagle Energy has been working on two other lighting projects in the Navajo Nation. They have been stocking school libraries with Nokero solar-powered bulbs that students with limited access to electricity at home can check out. For every book a student reads, they can also enter their name in a drawing to win one of the light bulbs available in the library for their families. The second project encourages Navajo women to become solar technology agents, earning their own income and investing part of it back into new stock. This helps their families' incomes and the environment.
Eagle Energy's goal is to eradicate kerosene use on the Navajo Nation by 2015.