solar sisterWith nearly 75% of rural Africa lacking access to electricity and only 26% of women acting as entrepreneurs, several African countries remain behind the developmental curve and bogged down in poverty. Lack of light and decreased business-building based on gender and status stall improvement in nearly every facet of life. Therefore, access to electricity and increased female entrepreneurial activity could be pivotal in overcoming poverty. The nonprofit organization Solar Sister empowers women to conquer economic, healthcare and education challenges in developing nations by encouraging female entrepreneurship related to increasing electricity availability.

What Is Solar Sister?

Founded in 2011, Solar Sister is a women-led empowerment movement aimed at encouraging female innovation and entrepreneurship through solar technology. The organization trains and equips participants with the necessary skills to create and distribute clean energy solutions that help combat community problems. The overarching goal is to increase electricity access in the world’s most impoverished places. According  one successful Solar Sister, “to progress, first you need light.”

Like most business ventures, many Solar Sisters report that their businesses are built largely on trust and willingness to “take risks.” Solar Sister empowers women by focusing intently on its founder and CEO Katherine Lucey’s motto that everyone deserves access to clean, affordable energy. By employing women’s personal knowledge about their peers’ and villages’ needs, the organization is quickly approaching Lucey’s goal by creating specialized clean energy solutions and promoting female entrepreneurship.

Hilaria’s Story

Hilaria Paschal, one of Solar Sister’s first entrepreneurs in Tanzania, began her journey with clean energy in 2013. She is a farmer, basket weaver, businesswoman, wife and mother of three. Paschal’s husband kick-started her company with minor capital, but she has managed the operation since. She purchased only 12 lights at her business’s conception, yet managed to sell 25 products in her first month. Since 2013, Paschal has sold nearly 400 products that now power more than 2,000 homes. She attributes her success to her specialized knowledge of her village’s needs and to her immense creativity.

In 2015, Paschal formed Mshikamano, a group of basket weaving women ready to learn more about clean energy, entrepreneurship and the possibility of becoming a Solar Sister. Mshikamano translates to “solidarity” in Swahili, a perfect depiction of Solar Sister’s mission and Paschal’s work.

For her outstanding performance in the Solar Sister Program, Paschal was named the 2017 Women Entrepreneur of the Year by the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy (ENERGIA). She was granted the opportunity to travel to New York, where she accepted her prize and was invited to speak at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum.

But Solar Sister’s praise and recognition does not end with Paschal. In 2015, former president Bill Clinton visited Solar Sister’s site in Karatu, Tanzania as a part of the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action. His visit resulted in higher publicity for the organization and its entrepreneurial opportunities for women.

Solar Sister’s Impact

To date, Solar Sister has launched operations in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where its 4,000 entrepreneurs have collectively reached more than 1.5 million people and broadened electricity access in some of the world’s most energy-poor countries. Solar Sister products include clean cooking stoves, regular solar lanterns and even solar-powered cell phone chargers, all of which can improve several facets of life and surpass the abilities of simple light.

In an effort to explain just how beneficial affordable, clean energy can be in developing countries, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship conducted a 2017 study entitled, “Turning on the Lights: Transcending Energy Poverty Through the Power of Women Entrepreneurs.” The study concluded that Solar Sister provides much more than light to communities and opportunities for female entrepreneurs, as newly prosperous populations also experience an enhanced quality of healthcare and education. Women in particular are reaping the benefits of increased household incomes, greater respect in the workplace and higher economic statuses.

Empowering Women Helps Entire Communities

In addition, Solar Sister’s solar technology improves health and safety. Solar lanterns do not create the negative health effects that kerosene exposure causes, nor do they pose a fire hazard. Additionally, health clinics and hospitals can use solar lanterns to extend their services and increase their efficiency during night hours. In terms of education, 90% of parents believe their children have improved academically since obtaining increased access to light. This progress is partially due to children having more time to study at night, but mostly because kerosene savings can now be put toward education. Other benefits of solar power include eliminating the travel time required to acquire kerosene, which can now be used to work longer hours and increase household incomes. Higher incomes create more purchasing power and more opportunities for advancement which stimulates local, national and global economies. Overall, Solar Sister empowers women in Africa to live safer, financially secure lifestyles.

To follow the Solar Sister program and its progress, visit or search #IAmSolarSister on social media.

– Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Power Africa Initiative
President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative is looking to solve a monster problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where two out of three people lack access to electricity. Power Africa suggests “ambitious but achievable” goals, including the creation of 60 million new electricity connections and 30,000 megawatts of new and cleaner power.

According to President Barack Obama, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity.” With Power Africa, the U.S. is investing in Africa’s potential. Obama has brought together private and public organizations, political leaders and power generation experts with the goal of improving peoples’ quality of life and stimulating economic growth.

USAID’s goal with the Power Africa Initiative has been “to remove barriers that impede sustainable development.” A recent article in Bloomberg, however, claims that after three years, those barriers are still in place.

Writers Toluse Olorunnipa and Tope Alake cite evidence that Power Africa “has fallen well short of its goals, so far producing less than 5 percent of the new power generation it promised.” They highlight political dysfunction, policy bundling and economic hurdles as major obstacles to progress.

USAID, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, is aiming to implement policy and regulatory reforms, and the Department of Energy has partnered with the Clean Energy Solutions Center in the Power Africa Initiative to “help governments design and adopt policies and programs that support the deployment of clean energy technologies.”

With over 120 public and private partners, the Power Africa Initiative has the potential to make an enormous impact in the African continent, despite the bleak progress reported.

In September 2016, President Obama argued that progress is being made, citing successes involving “solar power and natural gas in Nigeria; off-grid energy in Tanzania; people in rural Rwanda gaining electricity.”

Obama went on to say that the global community must continue to invest in Africa’s youth in order to build upon the progress that has already been made. It may be that maximizing investment in Africa’s young people will “spur Africa’s energy revolution.”

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to assume office, his choice of cabinet members is demonstrating a philosophical shift in foreign policy. It is uncertain at this point whether the incoming U.S. administration will continue to support international development projects such as Power Africa.

As long as funding continues, however, the initiative will continue to make an impact.

Tim Devine

Photo: Flickr

dumsorIf you were to ask any Ghanaian, whether local or in the diaspora, what Ghana’s biggest issue is, the response would undoubtedly be dumsor, pronounced “doom-sore.” This term refers to the continuous and unpredictable electric power outages in the country.

Though dumsor has been a problem for decades, it was not until 2012 that this issue worsened. Ghana now faces regular power outages which can last for about 12 hours per day.

The reasons for the outages are unclear. It has often been claimed that part of the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) was cut by a ship’s anchor, which consequently halted the transmission of gas for electricity production. Other theories claim that the Akosombo Bui and Kpong Dam are not functioning properly because of low water causing mechanical problems with power plants. But whatever the cause, this crisis has yet to be solved.

In 2013, the World Bank Enterprise Survey on African countries, including Ghana and Nigeria, named “the ongoing rampant poor electricity supply as one of the biggest barriers to growth of the country’s economy and hindrance to many multinational investors.”

The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) was reported to have lost $100,000 in profits in 24 hours due to continuous power outages at the Tema Harbour site. Other manufacturing companies such as breweries, bakeries and clothing companies, businesses such as restaurants, salons and corporate offices, as well as important locations such as hospitals, airports and schools, are also being adversely affected.

Every working person in the country needs electricity. For the few who have generators, life is a bit more bearable. But a consequence that arises from this alternative is not only the noise that is created by these generators but the cost to maintain these devices. For those who can only afford candles, the use of this alternative can lead to fires.

The Ghanaian government, as well as the Volta River Authorities (VRA), Ghana Grid Company (GRIDCO), the Northern Electricity Distribution Company (NEDCO) and Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) have been looked to for answers. Although the president has made several promises, including a notable one that dumsor would be over by Christmas 2015, the problem still persists.

At this point, after several denials and broken promises by the Ghanaian government, it has been realized by most that the current energy crisis is not a result of inadequate installed capacity but rather a lack of financial resources to utilize the installed capacity. Ghana already owes billions of dollars in debt to electricity companies within and outside Ghana.

After four years, despite public marches, protests by local celebrities, the launch of a dumsor app and all of the promises by the government, no real progress has been made so far. Addressing this issue will tremendously help the country economically and contribute to its development.

Vanessa Awanyo

Sources: My Joy Online, Modern Ghana, AllAfrica

Mali has signed an agreement with Oslo-based renewable energy specialist Scatec Solar to build West Africa’s first industrial-scale solar plant. The plant will be built near the southwestern city of Segou and has a life expectancy of 25 years.

According to Scatec Solar’s website, the company is “an integrated independent power producer, aiming to make solar a sustainable and affordable source of energy worldwide. Scatec Solar develops, builds, owns and operates solar power plants and delivers power from 219 megawatts in the Czech Republic, South Africa and Rwanda.”

Mali’s energy minister, Mamadou Frankaly Keita, said, “This landmark agreement signals the government’s commitment to meet the nation’s growing energy demand and to provide clean, renewable and affordable energy to our people.”

In recent years, Mali has been plagued by chronic electricity outages. In 2013, the government reported that it was only able to supply 45 percent of its 16 million people with electricity.

But with the addition of this solar plant, the problem of electricity shortages will be solved. The plant is expected to produce enough electricity each year to power 60,000 family homes, while cutting annual carbon dioxide emissions by 46,000 tons.

It has been reported that Mali’s EDM-SA energy company, two thirds of which are owned by the states and one third of which is owned by the Aga Khan group, is in crisis. It is failing to ensure an adequate supply of electricity, despite state subsidies worth 87.7 million euros in 2013.

With this new solar plant, Scatec will own 50 percent of the Segou plant while the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation will hold 32.5 percent, leaving the remaining equity to local power partner Africa Power 1.

Scatec Solar will construct the plant and will also provide operation and maintenance services after the plant is connected to the electricity grid.

The chairman of Africa Power 1 SA and General Administrator of Scatec Solar West Africa SA, Dr. Ibrahim Togola, said, “Today’s event is historic because Mali now becomes the first country to install the largest solar grid connect power plant in the region. This high-profile joint venture, in which Malian citizens participate, will serve as a model to launch the solar era in West Africa.”

By tapping into the available sunlight, sunlight that is available almost all day, citizens in Mali will be able to use this clean and free energy. It will also have a positive impact on the air by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Although solar panels are expensive at the beginning, the reduction in electricity bills can be seen in about seven years after installation. With the large solar plant being built in Mali, homeowners do not need to pay the expense of private solar panels.

Hopefully, the solar plant in Mali is a test run for the effectiveness of solar electricity in West Africa and is something that will soon be present in the rest of Africa.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: Africa Renewal Online ,, Scatec Solar
Photo: Aspire Africa

On June 23, 2015, California Representative Ed Royce introduced an updated version of his “Electrify Africa Act” in hopes that, after a year of gaining attention, the bill would have more traction in 2015.

First introduced nearly two years earlier, H.R. 2847 (2014 version, H.R. 2548), known as the Electrify Africa Act, seeks “to encourage African countries to provide first-time access to electricity and power services for at least 50,000,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Though certain language has been rearranged and some bill descriptions altered between the years, both versions address the same goal: to have the U.S. Government establish policy to “partner, consult, and coordinate” with the governments of Sub-Saharan Africa and international agencies in order to provide reliable access to electricity.

Findings reported to Congress in the 2014 act showed that an estimated 68% of Sub-Saharan Africans lacked access to electricity as of 2010; with Africa’s rapid rate of population growth, this percentage is likely even higher today. At a minimum, first-time access to electricity must be provided to 50 million people in the region, some 10% of the estimated population lacking power.

Residents of Sub-Saharan Africa living without electricity are forced to use time-consuming and inefficient heating and cooking methods, such as using wood and dung for fuel. In addition to being time-consuming, the fuels utilized in these regions can produce toxic fumes, which, according to the report, cause nearly 3 million premature deaths due to respiratory disease each year.

The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 would establish a precedent in U.S. foreign policy to aid developing nations in creating and expanding their electrical infrastructure in a sustainable and effective way. Expansion of the electrical grid would reduce the prevalence of carbon-emitting and toxic materials being used for heating and cooking purposes, as well as reduce poverty by creating jobs, expanding entrepreneurial opportunities and lowering energy prices.

The bill further calls for a focus on expanding and promoting energy development strategies, including the use of renewable and cleaner energy sources as a way to build the overall economy by increasing investment across the region.

Electrify Africa 2014 (first introduced in June 2013) passed the U.S. House of Representatives with significant bipartisan support and a vote of 297 to 117. However, the bill stalled out once it hit the U.S. Senate floor, where it was read twice before being referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, as documented on

The Electrify Africa Act 2015 has since been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it awaits further action. Though the bill has garnered significant support in 2014, the 2015 version will need to raise the bar in order to make it all the way to the President in this legislative session.

– Gina Lehner

Sources: EAA 2014, EAA 2015
Photo: Huffington Post