Energy Access For All In the 21st Century

It is surprisingly easy to bring electricity to entire communities that don’t currently have access to the grid.  There are 4 main factors that need to covered in order to ensure success:

  1. Identifying and communicating your intentions with the target community.  

  2. Raising the necessary funds to by every home in the community it’s own individual power and light source (anywhere between 20 to 100 dollars per home depending on the size of the system)

  3. Identifying potential vendors of the solar power products you want to distribute and setting up the  framework for purchase, delivery and service  

  4. Distributing the solar power systems to every home in the village and cataloguing the process for maintenance and service over time

What is keeping over 1 billion people on this earth in the dark is not a lack of technology or innovation capable of bringing power to those without access to the grid.  The only barrier is basic economics.  Those who live without power do so because they are too impoverished to do anything about it.  Almost everyone  prefers to live with electricity and in the 21st century electricity is an essential resource.  Without it people are are marginalized; with it people are empowered.  

The price of solar power has dropped almost 80% since 2008.  This has made solar power a feasible solution for the many millions of people who are still living without any source of electricity in their homes.  

This means addressing the problem does not require reinventing the wheel because solar power has proven itself to be the ideal stepping stone for greater access to electricity.  Just as cell phones have spread throughout the developing world, (perhaps the greatest example of leap frog technology), so too can solar solve many of the worlds basic energy needs.

In India over the past 25 years the national grid has been expanded to reach almost 90 percent of Indian villages, yet almost ⅓ of those villages cannot afford the cost of a physical connection to the grid, making this seemingly impressive number of 90% regarding infrastructure development irrelevant.

More importantly as the price of solar power has dropped over the years and LED technology has managed to make increasing gains in both brightness and efficiency, the developing world is geared now more than ever for a solar revolution.  

Micro grids represent a viable energy supply alternative when grid access is not available but there are also problems with micro grids that are not present with the distribution of individual home solar power systems.  Because micro grids are typically centralized power distribution points, if something fails in the central system, be it batteries, charge controllers, solar panels etc. then the entire system goes down and therefore the entire village loses power.  Ownership of and use of the microgrid also can become an issue with some homes potentially using more than their share of power,  potentially causing the system to shut down due to overloading.  Ultimately D.C. transmission micro grid infrastructure is not as affordable or stable when compared to giving each home its own personal power system which the family owns and for which it is  personally responsible.  This reality has played a major role in one of the newest developments for solar in the developing world.  

The latest solar trend to hit the developing world incorporates micro financing which has become so prevalent over the past decade.  Many small start-ups are leasing solar lanterns and solar home lighting systems to households without electricity for a monthly fee.  It represents an affordable means for many people to acquire electricity for the first time in their lives without having to pay an expensive up- front cost that is typically beyond their budgets.

As The Solar Village Project continues to expand its efforts in the future we will incorporate a micro finance model into our projects to help ensure the longevity of each village’s solar system and to reduce our reliance on charitable contributors like you.  By charging a nominal fee equal to or less than the average cost of Kerosene used for home lighting each month we will be able to help pay for the costs of implementing and maintaining each village’s needs over time.  

Solar power is undeniably an amazing resource and it represents our greatest opportunity for sustainable energy advancement in the developing world.    

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Comment by Salvatore Chester on March 21, 2015 at 4:58am

Great job! Joe. Thanks for the relevance and accuracy of your field work.

Agreed on nearly every aspect of it, except one important point : "...Those who live without power do so because they are too impoverished to do anything about it..."

According to my local experience in Maigobo ( other villages in rural Ethiopia, the real problem here is the lack of viable options, that is quality and affordable (> 10 $) basic solar lanterns in the market, in significant volumes.
Suffice to know that a good percentage of so called poor have already bought CASH their nice and expensive mobile phones too.
Maybe I should not mention also the amount most men spend here on booze each and every month. Keep up the great job!


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