Solar Electric Light FundThe Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) advocates that energy access is a human right. Beginning in 1990, founder Neville Williams worked to build solar-powered home systems in regions where families lacked electricity. Expanding from an individualized approach to the “Whole Village Development Model” in 2001, SELF began installing solar-powered electric systems into community infrastructure. SELF combats energy poverty with clean, empowering solutions. These solutions include powering homes, schools, street lamps, healthcare facilities, water pumps and providing education on photovoltaic (PV) technology.

What is Energy Poverty?

SELF defines energy poverty as an inability to acquire modern energy sources. The U.N.’s 2020 Energy Progress Report stated that 789 million people across the world did not have access to a dependable source of electricity in 2018.

An unbalanced percentage of those living without energy access reside in rural areas due to the “last mile” problem. This refers to the difficulty in providing energy access to isolated individuals lacking proximity to a power grid. Approximately 85% of those without energy access live in rural areas, and 16 countries across the developing world recorded 5% or less of their rural populations had access to energy.

What Are its Effects?

Energy access is crucial for a community as it affects food, clean water, medical care, employment and education access. Without electricity, water pumps are unable to provide safe drinking water for consumption and irrigation. Also, without electricity, modern medical machines cannot operate and temperature-controlled vaccines are unavailable.

Lack of access to modern conveniences, such as the internet, also hinders the progress of businesses and educational institutions. Additionally, light is unable to illuminate studying or working activities after dark. Those using kerosene lamps are in danger of a malfunction explosion. For females of all ages, lack of light also heightens the threat of sexual violence when going outdoors. It also compromises maternal health for those who go into labor after dark.

SELF: Blazing The Trail

SELF works to create energy-efficient, cost-efficient, sustainable and replicable solar-powered systems. Utilizing PV technology to transform sunlight into electricity, SELF has operated in 25 countries, building 550 solar-powered energy systems. Currently, the organization is working on the following projects:

  1. Benin: In the Kalalé District, one clean water source might provide for 550-9,500 people. On the other hand, larvae or animal carcasses can infest unclean water sources. SELF recently received a grant to install 24 solar-powered water pumps that rely on energy during daylight and gravity at night to provide clean water for 82,000 people.
  2. Uganda: At the Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF), SELF will install a solar micro-grid. This grid will provide electricity for social, educational, cooking and food refrigeration initiatives. RHF is an organization that grants victims and children of rape the necessary support. Furthermore, SELF built street lamps and water stations in the Bukyerimba area to mitigate sexual assault risks.
  3. Haiti: In the rural Southwest, SELF is rebuilding a solar and diesel hybrid micro-grid that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 so that 2,120 homes can have energy access. SELF also founded the National Solar Training Center at Haiti Tec in order to strengthen solar energy installation education. Also, SELF pioneered an “energy harvest device” that is able to store solar energy to power refrigerators for vaccines. Refrigerators with this technology are being observed in Haiti and three other countries with the intention of submitting a progress analysis to the World Health Organization in 2021.

Past, Present and Future Progress

Other highlights in previous years include providing electricity to 62 health facilities in rural Ghana and Uganda, electrifying the indigenous village of Katamsama in Colombia, powering a school in Port au Prince, Haiti and providing electricity to the Xixuaú-Xipariná Ecological Reserve in the Amazon.

In each of these operations, SELF strives to provide income generation strategies to account for the cost of upkeep in the 20-25 year lifespan of solar modules. An article in the Global Citizen emphasized SELF Executive Director Robert Freling’s belief that enabling local inhabitants to care for these installations and empowering newly-electrified communities is a vital component of their work.

Over the past two decades, energy efficiency and the presence of renewable energy sources has increased worldwide. With these developments, the cost of PV solar technology decreased by 66% in the commercial sphere from 2010 to 2018. SELF hopes to capitalize upon these improvements in order to provide sustainable, reliable energy for those facing energy poverty. By providing integrated, innovative solutions, the Solar Electric Light Fund is illuminating a path for a more sustainable, connected world.

– Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr